Sunday, March 12, 2023

Holiness: A Contact Sport

Is holiness a contact sport? Is it something we can bump into?

A colleague of mine once described his daughter as clumsy. "She is always bumping into things." I thought to myself, "of all the words a parent could use to capture their child, he uses clumsy?!" You might not find that offensive in the least, but my antenna of judgment stood straight up. Turns out his description was not in vain. He was preparing for his father-of-the bride speech.

He said, "she was at an event and bumped into Chris. She spilled her drink on him. That's how they met. So we can bump glasses and toast to that." 

His words, that story, the collective "cheers" we gave to the happy couple and one another—I think the best word to describe it: holy.

If holiness were a contact sport, then how might you interact with those around you differently? Could you put yourself in their lane? I know I do what I can to avoid that— especially with people I find challenging or disagreeable. Rather than box out, would we be asked to box in? What does that even look like? 

This way of thinking about holiness came to me from Father Greg Boyle, SJ—priest, prophet and poet. In his latest book, "The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness," Boyle writes, "I always liked that Saint Kateri Tekakwitha’s name: “Tekakwitha” means “she who bumps into things.” What if holiness is a contact sport and we are meant to bump into things?" He had me at contact sport.

In my life, I haven't played a lot of contact sports. The sports I have taken to—golf, tennis, long distance rowing and running—demand me to dig deep and keep my eye on the ball, the back of the person sitting in the seat in front of me or the road ahead. However, if you ask me What is your favorite sport to watch? one of them is a contact sport. F
ootball (or American football for the soccer players out there), like other contact sports, necessitates physical, bodily contact. Contact sports require a lot of bumping into things and that isn't always easy. Athletes take a physical beating and run the risk of injury because of it. What we bump into might break. What we make contact with might hurt us and others. The path to holiness isn't all that different.

Boyle offers a response. He writes, 

In the end, all great spirituality is about what to do with our pain. We hesitate to eradicate the pain, since it is such a revered teacher. It re-members us. Our wounds jostle from us what is false and leaves us only with a yearning for the authentically poetic. From there to here. Holiness as a contact sport, busting us open into some new, unfettered place. We are hesitant, then, not to call it God. Remarkable, incredible, and… all the other “-ables.”
To me, that's a God who is tangible...palpable...and well, describable.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was a Native American, daughter of a Mohawk chief, a tribe belonging to the Iroquois Confederacy. She bumped into things because smallpox, left her with facial scarring and damaged eyesight. Canonized by Pope Francis, she saw what really mattered through the light of faith. Let put on that lens and engage in this contact sport. Amen

Photo credits
St Kateri
SI Field Hockey and Greg Boyle, SJ

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