(As I wrote last week, I’m taking a little vacation from my blog. So this week I’m running an earlier reflection from August 26, 2013. I will resume writing my regular blog on Monday September 5.)
Someone has said that going barefoot can be a spiritual practice. There’s a scriptural basis for this assertion. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, God told him to take off his shoes, for he was standing on holy ground (Ex. 3:5). But isn’t all ground holy? If so, then shouldn’t we take off our shoes regularly so we can be one with our sacred earth?
As kids, many of us went barefoot in summer. I know I did. Right after school ended, we kids celebrated this happy event by kicking off our shoes and socks and running around our farm barefoot. At first the gravel in the driveway hurt our feet. As we walked crossed the driveway in early June, we’d grimace and say, “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” But by August, after we had built up some callouses, we’d cross the driveway with ease. Before going to bed each night, our mother scrubbed our dirty feet so vigorously it hurt. But that was a small price to pay for the freedom of no shoes.
When I spent a month in Korea a while back, I was impressed with their practice of removing shoes when entering a house. At our provincial center in Inchon, there are little cubby holes by the entrance where the sisters deposit their shoes when coming in off the street. Even when we visited a kindergarten there, we were asked to remove our shoes and were given slippers to wear during our visit.
In India I was taking off my shoes every time we visited a shrine or a temple. There would be hundreds of shoes at the entrance to these places—even the Taj Mahal. At first I was reluctant to remove my shoes. I feared picking up some horrible parasite. I also feared I would never see my shoes again! But I quickly learned that some people make a living at the entrances to these shrines by offering to guard your shoes for you while you’re inside—for a few shekels, of course. I never lost a pair of shoes the whole time I was in India—although every evening I scrubbed my feet vigorously.
When I lived alone in an apartment in Detroit, I noticed something about myself. Every time I’d come home from work, I’d automatically kick off my shoes. I usually stayed barefoot or in my stocking feet until I crawled into bed at night. When I visited my relatives in the Czech Republic, I saw that the Czechs (like the Koreans) remove their shoes before entering their homes. If you look down the hall in an apartment building, for example, you’ll see a half dozen shoes stacked outside every door. My propensity for bare feet must be a genetic thing!
I’m not advocating going barefoot all the time, of course. Even as a child in summer, we had to put on our shoes to go inside the coop or barn. In Uganda, I saw many children without shoes—not because they were doing a spiritual practice, but because they couldn’t afford shoes. There are many organizations that provide new or gently used shoes for kids in developing countries, for example, Soles4Souls, Walk in My Shoes Global Project, and www.yesshoesinc.org.
The night before Jesus died, he washed the feet of his disciples, performing a servant’s task. For sure, those feet weren’t very pretty. They were probably rough, dirty, smelly, with broken nails, bunions, and bent toes. Yet he washed them tenderly, bestowing a dignity upon all feet, including our own. Yes, our feet are beautiful no matter what they look like, for they bear the weight of our entire body. They also bear the wear and tear of our comings and goings as we do good to others.
Go barefoot, then—before summer comes to an end. (For those of you living in the southern hemisphere, your summer will be coming soon!) Thank God for your feet today and for the privilege of walking on earth, this holy ground.
Today’s song is “Holy Ground”:
What do you think of going barefoot? Has it ever been a spiritual practice for you?