As soon as it starts to get warm, I begin to “toughen up” my feet. This means going barefoot outside as often as possible, and it has been a part of Springtime for me ever since I was a child. After a winter in socks and shoes, my feet feel tender and vulnerable as I walk with them bare over the grass, over the driveway, over the sidewalks of the neighborhood. Every sensation on the bottom of my feet is noticeable; every little thing on the ground is felt in the skin of my soles. But over time, walking around barefoot makes the bottoms of my feet tough, like thick leather. By the end of the summer I can walk over sun-heated concrete, pebbles and rocks, and other rough places without even thinking about it.
I love being barefoot. I love the way it feels, the way it makes me sense and perceive and be aware of my surroundings in a different way. Even with my feet all toughened up at the end of the summer, I feel more connected to everything around me when I am barefoot. God said to Moses from the burning bush: “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Indeed, when I can feel the ground beneath my feet, it takes on extra significance. I am more aware of my surroundings – what is on the ground, what is immediately around the place where I stand, what is over my head (like that tree that is dropping those acorns I am now stepping on). This makes me attentive to how the ground in any particular place is special and unique, connected to something larger, like it holds secrets to be discerned beyond what is obvious. Sometimes the ground does feel holy, imbued with the complex wonder and mystery of creation.
When I was a little girl, even grown-ups went barefoot sometimes. Granted, I was raised by Southern hippies. But still, I can remember quite clearly that at the beach, by the lake, and at the pool, everybody would be barefoot. Nowadays, one hardly ever sees a bare foot, on child or adult. We have all these various sandals, pool shoes, beach shoes, water shoes, and variations on shoes that are designed specifically to be worn in the places where we used to just go barefoot. This makes me sad. Going barefoot is becoming rare, along with the fine art of porch-sitting, as we all retreat inside the moment the temperature is below 67 or above 72. We go from one climate-controlled box to another, increasingly cut off from our surroundings and, it seems, from one another. And when we have to venture outside of these climate-controlled boxes, we are warned that we must always, always be wearing shoes so that our feet do not get exposed to the unknown horrors on the ground. And we must be careful not to expose ourselves to those dangerous people out there, too. But if we are constantly refusing to come into any real, meaningful contact with what surrounds us – let alone with each other - what are we missing? What wonders are around us that we just don’t notice or perceive? We do not want to make ourselves vulnerable – not the soles of our feet, nor any other part of ourselves. The thought of any discomfort is unbearable to us, so we deprive ourselves of the experience of feeling anything at all, cutting ourselves off from relationship with our surroundings and with other people. We wrap ourselves up in sandals, in climate-controlled boxes, in the anesthetizing habits of busy-ness and hurry, in the glow of our electronic screens. If we are ever standing on Holy Ground, we certainly will never feel it, never know.
I know that many of you never go around barefoot, and I do not expect this to change. Nor do I honestly think that people being barefoot would be the start of some sort of amazing spiritual revolution whereby all of the alienation and isolation that is so indicative of these times would magically be undone. (If only it were so easy!) But the question of being bare, exposed and vulnerable, of sensing and perceiving and noticing what is around us – including one another - is not just about feet. We might need to entertain some different possibilities, and ask ourselves different questions in our hearts. How am I closing myself off to what is around me? Where can I open myself up to a new way of seeing, feeling and perceiving? What habit has become a shelter from anything out-of-the ordinary, anything uncomfortable? Is there something amazing, something beautiful, something holy that I am not even noticing – the ground beneath my feet, the person right next to me? How is God trying to speak to me, to reach me? How must I make myself vulnerable – where must I be bare and exposed - in order to feel God’s presence, to receive what God is offering?
The thing at stake is not spiritual revolution, but it may in fact be revelation. God is reaching out towards you and longing for you to see, to perceive, to receive and know God in some new, more immediate, more intimate way. In Jesus Christ, the fullest revelation of who God is and what God does, we see exactly that. God comes to us, reaches out to us, and calls us into love, often in the times, places and situations where we feel most frighteningly vulnerable. In Jesus, we see that God reveals God’s very self to us in the midst of the mess, the scary and painful places, and even the mundane humdrum of our lives. Is it possible that the place where you are standing is actually Holy Ground?