Grounding Footsteps


The events of the last weeks have had me reaching out for what is grounding, what has withstood the tests that have inevitably challenged humanity throughout time. Questions like ‘what really sustains?’ and ‘ what brings courage and wisdom?’ have floated in between the anguish of troubling newsfeed that can be our constant companion if we allow it. Trying to keep a balance between being responsible and informed and staying calm and sane can be a difficult.
Recently I have returned to a devotional book given to me as a birthday gift from a friend. It is simply titled Celtic Daily Prayer and is a rich compilation of scripture and reflection from throughout the swath of writings of those who have been shaped by the faith of those who have made a home in or near the British Isles. Each month in the book is themed and July is devoted to pilgrimage…pilgrimage to places held holy by those who lived and traveled there. In yesterday’s reading I found words that soothed my soul.

July 14 was given over to the pilgrimage site of Assisi, Italy. “In Assisi the past is not history, but the life of Francis is now, just as Christ is now.” writes Norma Wise. These words had me swirling back in memory to my travels two years ago and the experience of beauty and strength that permeated the streets of Assisi. While all the modern amenities we have come to hold so precious were present in this ancient city there was also the sense that time was fluid and that the living presence of the humble teacher we have come to call St. Francis might appear around the next corner. His gifts of simplicity and wonder at the fullness of Creation seemed to shimmer in the very air. 

Further in the devotional reading were these words: “There have been thousands of footsteps around Assisi, but through them all the footsteps of Francis seem freshly there, unaltered,calling out for us to walk in them,and learn.” writes Brenda Grace. The days we walked this tiny Umbrian town, the place was filled with pilgrims night and day. Languages floated by in conversation, words unfamiliar, unknown. Faces shown forth with characteristics of those from a variety of countries and national origins. Our own footsteps made one more groove in the stones there and left their image in the dusty paths. It was easy to image our footsteps mixed with those of Francis and his followers…calling out to us to learn.

Learn? Learn, what? Certainly, the value to the Holy of each created being from tiny insect to upright human. Perhaps, the joy of the simple things of the every day…the sunrise and sunset, the trees swaying in breeze, the rain falling, the light twinkling on water, the smell of a freshly bloomed flower. All gifts of Creator…all which we had no hand in bringing to being. Our only work is to receive them in our presence, exclaim our wonder and enjoy. Our deep connection to every part of the world…the poor, the lonely, those on the margins, those we name other or least…all these are kin. These could be just a few of the lessons Francis might teach us for our day and time.

This mental pilgrimage, these memories helped me find the grounding I needed to walk out into the day and I was grateful. The words and the challenge to walk in the footsteps of Francis once again helped center me for the work of the day. I thought of how in a sense I had brought his footsteps with me across an ocean and into my own land. This thought helped me to walk more gently with yesterday’s experiences…to hold someone’s gaze more fully…to breathe more deeply of the beauty that still exists around me…to offer blessing to the strangers who pass our way…to make my prayer constant, unceasing. These can be things we abandon when life gets tough.

Today, I am sure, pilgrims from all walks of life are showing up in a little town in Italy, a place where only their clothing and the cars rushing by gives indication of the year. But history is not past there. It is now…just as Francis is now…just as Christ is now. This brings me comfort and peace for the journey of my own present. What is bringing you comfort and peace these days?

Under Appreciated Words


Surrounded by the pain and astonishment, a common phrase heard over this last week has been “There are no words.” There are no words that can make sense of the loss, the grief, the despair we see seeping into all the cracks and crevices of what we thought we knew, what we hold dear, what we value. There are no words that seem adequate for our anger and disgust over lives, dreams, possibilities cut short once again by the strength and power of bullets, of racism that runs so deep in the rivers and tributaries of this nation and our very veins that we fail to see it, own it, claim it. There are no words that seem to be powerful enough to jar me fully awake to the white privilege I embody every day even when I desperately do not want to admit it. There are no words that speak enough truth. There are no words that will bring enough comfort. There are no words that will help any one of us believe that this time, this time something can be done to stop the insanity. There are no words.
I have found myself not knowing how to pray. The words don’t come and so I simply breathe…and in that breathing hope beyond hope that I am connecting with the More that holds all the wordless places. The More that is known in the silence and the ancient time before words defined us and helped us try to bring meaning to what we experience in this big adventure called life. Inhale. Exhale. Hope. No words.

A few weeks ago I heard the author Sara Miles speak. She has given her life over to helping feed the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless on the street of San Francisco. She posed the question: “What is the most important word in the Bible?” The room being filled with church types, professionals at scripture reading, I imagine thoughts like salvation…redemption…God…Jesus…resurrection…even love perched upon the lips of those around me. We all wanted to appear to be good students who knew the right answer.

But before any of us could raise our hand and receive her approval, Sara answered her own question. “With.” With is the most important word in the scriptures, she said. When she said this simple word, one we use over and over every day, I felt that place in my chest open that is the home to what is soul. I felt myself breathe more fully and allow the goodness of the moment and the gift of this under appreciated word rest in that heart place of my deepest knowing. With..I whispered to myself. With..liking the way it seemed like breath itself.

“Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” “Noah walked with God.” “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” “God said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you.” “When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” “God is with us.” “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

This great preposition, with, is the under appreciated word that reminds us of the invisible lines of connection that exist throughout all Creation. ‘With’ is the bridge-builder, the hand-holder, between us and them, you and me, this and that. In the scriptures this four letter word is a wake up call to the ways in which we can never be separated from the Spirit’s movement in our lives, in any given situation. Ever. 

And so, maybe there are no words for what we have seen unfold over the last week. No big, important words that will make it all make sense or make it better. At least until we embrace fully the power of ‘with’. I am with you and you are with me in this time of crisis in our nation and our world. We are with one another regardless of the color of our skin. We are with the families who suffer today because a loved one will never come home again. We are with those who have chosen a profession that seeks to serve and protect and is filled with experiences most of us could never imagine, experiences filled with fear and misunderstanding and rapid decisions. We are with our privilege and our racism and pray we can break its hold on us. We are with one another in the hope and promise of change and a brighter, safer future for all God’s children.

And when there are no words, may these bring a balm…”And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”