The other day in church the person making the announcements at the end mentioned a couple in the parish who was raising money to adopt a child from China. The adoption expenses for a foreign child are extremely high but the parents prayed about their decision and truly felt called to adopt the child. To raise money they were doing a walk in their town and chose a route that would allow those travelling in wheelchairs to participate. What a wonderful testament to love, I thought. But, couldn’t they just ask for money? Why did they have to walk?
Walks and runs and relays for causes are interesting. Interesting—because I believe people would still donate money whether or not there was a walk—but not redundant. It’s one thing to raise cash for breast cancer research, but it’s another thing to put your physical energy into the cause. It’s pure sacramentality: the idea that grace can be revealed in the physical “stuff” of this world. It means that we’re not just spirit, we’re body. It’s not just words, it’s action. I can say “I love you” but pairing it with a kiss deepens it. I can say “I’m sorry” but doing a penance calcifies it.
Sore Feet = Sacramental Involvement
A few years ago I did the Walk for Hunger which happens every May in Boston. I decided to walk the full 20 miles for all the money I raised. By the end of the day my feet were more sore than they ever had been. Sure, I could have just raised money and donated it with a click of a mouse, but something about that walk put me in solidarity with those suffering from hunger. A friend ran the Boston Marathon this year to raise money for cancer research. Her running put her in solidarity with those she was raising money for, not because her suffering was the same—because it wasn’t—but because her physical action was a sign that her cause called for more than a “first world” response. It called for full, sacramental, physical, involvement.
There’s something moving about seeing groups of people “do” for a cause. It’s a sign of the incarnate God who makes himself present in our world. As we mirror God’s image, our walking or running for a cause mirrors the solidarity God has with us. God suffers with us and feels what we feel. God feels the suffering of the hungry or the sick. And God does not just “feel” from a distance. God came to earth as Jesus Christ to endure the hardships of humanity, to be in solidarity with us. We also manifest God’s being with the suffering by our being in solidarity with the suffering, even through a walk for hunger.
This idea of sacramentality, of grace being channeled through the physical is why church exists. We could pray at home by ourselves, but by going to church and participating we allow our faith to deepen along side others who have similar and different needs. Sacramentality means taking our words and our hopes and our thoughts and changing them into actions that lovingly touch and transform the world which touches us back and transforms us.
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