A Time to Take Off Your Shoes

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Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

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Yesterday, on a beautiful Sabbath evening, some fifty folks spent a few hours here on our farm for worship and potluck for this summer’s first of our Wiser Lake Chapel’s long-running “outdoor church” tradition at various farms in our county.   Over the many years we have hosted this wonderful gathering of our church body, we have met up on our farm’s hill pasture and also under the shade of our front yard walnut trees.  As lovely as it is to meet on the hill with so many vistas and views, there are many manure piles and mole hills lying in wait to sully the bare toes of our active church kids.

Indeed, our children are more apt than the grown ups to follow the instruction of the Lord when He told Moses:

Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

There have long been cultures where shoes are to be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple in an intentional act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door to preserve the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.

Yet we as Christians wear shoes into church every Sunday, having walked in muck and mire of one sort or another all week. We try our best to clean up for Sunday, but we track in the detritus of our lives when we come to sit in the pews. Rather than leave it at the door, it comes right in with us, not exactly hidden and sometimes downright stinky. That is when we are in obvious need for a good washing, shoes, feet, soul and all, and that is exactly why we  need to worship together as a church family in need of cleansing, whether indoors or outdoors.

Jesus Himself demonstrated our need for a wash-up on the last night of His life, soaking the dusty feet of His disciples.

And then there is what God said. He asked that holy ground be respected by the removal of our sandals. We must remove any barrier that prevents us from entering fully into His presence, whether it be our attitude, our stubbornness, our unbelief, or our constant centering on self rather than other.

No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.

We trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where our feet land and the impact they leave behind. Perhaps by shedding the covering of our eyes, our minds, and our feet, we would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart.

So we may see.
So we may listen.
So we may feast together.
So we remove our sandals so our bare feet may touch His holy ground.

 

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Thank you to Bette Vander Haak and Kerry Garrett for sharing their pictures of outdoor church on our farm.

 

 

Turn Aside and Look: On Holy Ground

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The present is holy ground.
— Alfred North Whitehead

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It matters less what has happened or what will happen.  What matters is happening right this very moment.

We are sentient creatures with a proclivity to bypass the present to dwell on the past or fret about the future.   This has been true of humans since our creation.   Those observing Buddhist tradition and New Age believers of the “Eternal Now” call our attention to the present moment through the teaching of “mindfulness” to bring a sense of peacefulness and fulfillment.

Yet I don’t believe the present is about our minds, or how well we dwell in the moment.  It is not about us at all.

The present is holy ground where we are allowed to tread.  We are asked to remove our shoes in an attitude of respect to a loving God who gives us life, and we approach each sacred moment with humility.  We turn aside from the dailiness of our lives to look at what He has promised.

There will be no other moment just like this one.  There may be no other beyond this one.  Right now, this moment barefoot, I am simply grateful to be here.

 

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Preparing the Heart: Ignite the Burning Bush

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Then the Lord said to him, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Exodus 3:5

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Exodus 20: 18-19

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It is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. The very holy mountains are keeping mum. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind use to cry and the hills sing forth praise?
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

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We have pushed God away, not wanting to see His fire, nor smell the smoke of His burning branches, nor feel the singe of our own eyelashes by His heat. In our fear and discomfort, we fail to listen to His voice coming from the fire. So we try to douse it by quenching our longing for Him.  We fear submitting to Him when we may be burned to a crisp.

Yet we live empty lives without Him. We cannot relight the smoldering bush ourselves; it is rekindled only by His ignition through His incarnation — God With Us invites us back to His mountain to remove our shoes on Holy Ground and face Him, trembling.

He asks that our feet and hearts be naked and vulnerable.

Only then can we can hear the wind cry and the hills sing forth praise — the  voice of God Himself is heard in the cry of an Infant.

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In a Dark Place

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Sometimes when you’re in a dark place
you think you’ve been buried,
but actually you’ve been planted.
~Christine Caine

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We don’t understand
while buried in the dark,
that we rest planted in holy ground,
waiting for the wakening
that calls us forth to bloom and fruit.

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Weep for Wonder

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Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

The Lit Bush

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I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

~R.S. Thomas “A Bright Field”

 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

The barefoot movement is seeing a recent resurgence. There are people who believe it is healthier and more natural to walk about outside without foot coverings, despite increased risk of cuts and embedded thorns and frostbite in the winter. These feet are callous-crusted, leathery and perpetually grimy, arguably spread out wider with less toe deformities and bunion problems. The idea is to walk lightly on surfaces, with less impact, more sensitivity, vulnerability and authenticity, thus removing the barrier between the foot and nature.

In a somewhat opposing philosophy, there have long been cultures where shoes must be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple, in an overt act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door thereby preserving the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.

And then there is what God said. He asked Moses to respect holy ground by removing his sandals. Similarly, I must remove any barrier that prevents me from entering fully into His presence, whether it be my attitude, my stubbornness, my unbelief, my centering on self rather than other. No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.

Instead I trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where my foot lands and the impact it has, hurrying on to a receding future, hankering after an imagined past. If I might shed the covering of my eyes, my mind, my feet, I would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart. Even mine.

Burning and burning, never consuming, ever illuminating — a bright field of immeasurable treasure.

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The Holiest Thing

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What God arranges for us to experience at each moment
is the holiest thing that could happen to us.
~Jean-Pierre Caussade

I know there are moments
when there is no holiness in sight,
and even God hides His face;
certainly His Son cried out in anguish too.
So we tread barefoot and bloodied on this holy ground,
whether rocky, muddy, crumbling or cushioned,
and He is there, walking before us,
ready to pick us up if we fall.

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