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, 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. We’d grimace and say “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” as we walked across the driveway that first time in June. But by August, after we had built up some callouses, we could run across 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 few years 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 always taking my shoes off every time we entered a shrine or temple. There would be hundreds of shoes at the entrance to a major temple. 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 some people make a living at the entrances to these shrines by offering to guard your shoes for you while you are inside the shrine–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 very vigorously!
When I lived alone in Detroit for a few years, I noticed something about myself. Every time I came back to my apartment at the end of the day, I’d automatically kick off my shoes. I usually stayed barefoot or in 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 a 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 am not advocating that we go barefoot all the time, of course. Even as a child I had to put shoes on to go inside the coop or barn. In Africa, 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 or even our own country. You might want to check these out: Soles4Souls, Walk in My shoes Global Project, Shoe4Africa, 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–even our own. Yes, our feet are beautiful–no matter what they look like. They are beautiful because they bear the weight of our entire body. They also bear the wear and tear of our comings and goings as we do good for others. Go barefoot, then–before summer comes to an end! (For us living in the northern hemisphere, summer’s end is coming soon. For those of you living in the southern hemisphere, get ready. Your barefoot season is coming soon!) Thank God for your feet today and for the privilege of walking on earth, this holy ground!
What do you think about going barefoot? Has it ever been a spiritual practice for you?
Thank you for your prayers for the retreat in Biddeford, Maine last week. About fifty women (both lay women and sisters) participated in the silent retreat at the Marie Joseph Retreat Center. It’s a lovely setting for a retreat with the ocean right in the backyard!