I love the way that God appears in ordinary things, so easily missed and miraculously found in plain sight. Since I first read the story in a children’s picture bible, I have been fascinated by Moses and his burning bush. Watching the sheep, going about his work, Moses sees flames and bushes, just has he has every day before. On this day, this graced day, he sees them together, a bush burning, but not consumed by the flame.
The words of Genesis 3 are so carefully put: “When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush.” God was waiting, in the fire and the branches, for Moses to notice the miracle. God is waiting, has always been waiting, for our wonder and awe to make us stop and see reality for what it really is. And then God speaks.
Calling Moses by name, God gives him instructions, saying, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Moses has walked, in sandals, on this very same ground for many days before. The shoes have never been the problem, but the one standing on the ground can now see the holy in what is.
I have two confessions to make in the middle of this ancient pasture. First, I love shoes. I love the way they tell a story about the plans of the wearer. My shoes betray my lack of planning in a rain shower. They anticipate the parts of my story that will follow them, whether flip flops for the beach, heels for speaking for an audience, or rubber boots for installing sprinklers. My shoes carry my anxieties, protect my vulnerabilities, remind me when I need a rest. They spill out of my closets and make my husband shake his head with irritated affection.
Second, I have sensitive feet and I avoid being barefoot at almost all costs. Grass makes me itchy, hard flooring makes me cold, and rocks make me cry. It takes a great deal of effort for me to kick off my sandals and revel in putting my feet in the sand, let alone a chilly lake. I resist the call to remove my shoes, afraid of the discomfort that might follow. I cling to the comfort of a thin sole providing a barrier between reality and me.
Yet, in the metaphor of bare feet, I find my spiritual home. For my whole life, I have been looking at the ordinary, and looking again at the same reality to see something extraordinary. I have been finding God in the view from my bedroom window, in the human wisdom and voices of those who speak to me, in the bodies and bread of daily living. To take off my shoes, to let go of their beauty and their power and to choose to see divinity in the naked vulnerability of my little feet pressed on this holy ground: this is a spirituality that entices me and holds my distracted attention.
When my children are arguing about who gets the blue cup, and I find myself drowning in frustration, I look again and see the miracle of their tiny baby selves in my arms. In the chaos of a crowd in a park on a holiday, I feel hot and tired and overwhelmed just in time to look again and see God’s impatient children, blessed and broken, and beloved. A field of grass gets another glance, and I see each individual blade, unique and dependent on the others to be fully what it is.
Some people find God best kneeling in a church. Some are captivated by the God who finds them in age-old prayers and their carefully reserved devotional time every morning. Others are graced by a spirituality of generous and faithful service to those in need. My mom taught me about God with music and my husband teaches me with the unconditional love of laughter and rest. Indeed, I have touched God in all these places, and I am grateful that they continue to be sources of life and faith. At the same time, I have worried that God was disappointed by my impatience in prayer and liturgy, irritated by my lack of devotion, and angered by my lack of pious reverence. I have, in my fear and false humility, judged and condemned and rejected the language that God used to speak to me. And I do not need to be afraid.
Bare foot is where He finds me best. He made me this way. He has delighted in the way my eyes see, wiped the tears that find me when my stubborn heart finally lets Him love me, and waited for me to see Him in board rooms, and beaches, and freshly washed sheets. Amidst the noise of children, the hum of a crowd and the silence of a field, the Spirit of God whispers to me to take off my shoes in the moments of my everyday life and show up for the miracle of right now. When I step barefoot, I find beauty and truth in the world, and in God.
It’s an imperfect way of finding God, this bare foot spirituality. It is a wandering way filled with creativity and experiment, wonder and curiosity, mistakes and wrong turns. It is a way of turning back, of trying again and letting God find us in backward glances, “good enough,” and “let’s try again.” The imperfection of inching out a toe or two will do. He keeps taking my willingness and turning it into more.
This God of flames and branches is burning for us to recognize that our lives are holy, filled and flowing over with grace and blessing, exactly as they are. There is no boundary in being barefoot, no line between God’s world and ours. There is no right place or right words, no expectation or pretense. If Jesus came into the world with bare feet all his own and had his feet washed, by his parents and his disciples, then surely this bare foot way can be blessed.
From the burning bush, God asked Moses to free His people from slavery. God promised to be with Moses and his people for each step of that journey. Our many contemporary slaveries are no less destructive than those of Moses’ Israelites, our lives are no less sacred, and our steps are no less accompanied by this same God. When my feet are bared, God seems to set words into my world – to write, speak and share. And so I’m bare foot and preaching my way through this amazing life. If God finds you with bare feet too, or if you would like to bare your feet more often, I hope I will see you again.