by Eric Clayton

It was early on a weekday, humid but not yet oppressively so, and I was out for a walk with my daughters. The streets of our Baltimore neighborhood were quiet – a rarity, to be sure – and as a result, my daughter had many questions.

“Why are those stores closed?”

“Because it’s still early.”

“It’s not early,” my three-year-old insisted. “We already had breakfast.”

“We wake up earlier than most people,” I grumbled.

She nodded, continuing to point out the various shops and restaurants that were not yet open. She was genuinely flabbergasted that these shop owners had the audacity not to align their hours with our family schedule.

We turned the corner and began to climb up a slight hill, taking the long way back to our home. That’s when I saw him: a guy probably about my age, minding his own business, out on his own morning walk. The thing I noticed, though, was that he was carrying his shoes; he himself was barefoot.

My daughter noticed it, too, as I suspected she might. My mind began to race, preempting the inevitable.

“Why’s that guy not wearing any shoes?” she asked after we’d passed him.

“He doesn’t want to,” I offered. “He doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to.”

Not missing a beat, my daughter: “Can I take my shoes off?”

That’s what I was worried about. “No,” I began slowly. “You have little feet. He has big feet. So, he can walk barefoot if he wants.”

A pause, then: “Oh, right.” Like that was the most obvious answer in the world. And we continued on, our feet still safe and snug within our respective shoes.

Such a silly answer will hold little water as she gets older, but it saved me on that increasingly humid morning. My daughter just needed some response, some rationale, that would justify what she’d seen.

We might chuckle, roll our eyes, at such a response. And yet, it’s tempting, I think, to settle for answers like this in our faith lives.

We are content to let others tell us about God rather than plunge into the risky business of encountering God ourselves. We stop at simple answers to complex questions so as to uphold our preconceived ideas about how God’s Spirit works in our world. We shield ourselves with that which is comfortable instead of engaging in the creative tension of religion, spirituality and faith.

The thing is, unlike me – a tired father, trudging through an empty neighborhood on a hot morning – God welcomes those tough questions. God delights in our ever-deepening journey of faith.

That’s what a relationship with God looks like: an honest, open conversation about the things that matter most in our lives and in our world.

In God’s peace,

Eric Clayton
Deputy Director of Communications
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States