reddening flames that leap up
from branches and leaves,
in some way ignited
like the burning bush
speaking to us
of holy ground.
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
I muse, not for a moment thinking I
will hear reply when softly, voices brush
my ear, as sparrows sing and flit and fly
inside the flaming bush, whose tongues, I blush
to realize, are tongues of praise as well
as tongues of flame. “Give tongue to songs that flit
unsung within your heart like unrung bells,”
the voices seem to sing. “Be bold and let
your words flame out, oh, let them leap and dance.
Say that the King has come and speaks good news.
Make highways straight. Fill deserts with green plants.
All ground is holy now. Take off your shoes.
I must go barefoot; I feel each pebble, thorn and uneven spot when I tread the hours of the day and stub my toes in the dark of night. There is no chance I can remain unsung and unrung when I feel everything through my soles.
Soon it will be time to sing, to dance, and to peal in joy.
“We live in a world of theophanies.
Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary.
There are burning bushes all around you.
Every tree is full of angels.
Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb.
Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels,
but this can happen only if you are willing
to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough
to harvest its treasure.”
I’m following the crumb trail most days;my problem, like so many others I know,
is to realize the crumbs satisfy more than a seven course meal.
It may take longer to get full, but I need the exercise,
and the hungrier I get, the better the crumbs taste.
If I feast on crumbs,I will become wholly ordinary wrapped in holy.
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I feel I am walking on holy ground — in order to open my eyes, I must remove my shoes.
Only then may I approach. Only then am I aware of what surrounds me.
The present is holy ground.
— Alfred North Whitehead
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, as we approach each sacred moment with humility.
There will be no other just like this one. There may be no other beyond this one. Right now, this moment barefoot, I am simply grateful to be here.
The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools.
The change of seasons this week offered no gradual transition to ease us gently into autumn– three months of daily sun and balmy temperatures became gray, rainy, windy, stormy cuddle-down cold overnight. It is a terrible shock to our physiology as well as our wardrobe. Sweaters and jackets that have not seen the light of day for months are suddenly front and center in the closet. Sandals are shoved way to the back once again. Only last week I was still sneaking out to the barn to do morning chores in my pajamas and slippers but now am trussed up in my Carhartts, gloves and muck boots.
Tough as it is reconcile to shorter days and chilly temperatures, I do appreciate the absolute drama of it all. Golden leaves dance up and down in the gusts, as if searching for the exactly perfect landing and forever resting spot. The fallen walnuts inside their round green husks are scattered everywhere underfoot well hidden among the leaves, making navigating are yard’s pathways hazardous, especially in the dark. I’ve never been good at walking on marbles and these are ping pong ball size marbles.
So all bundled up I pick my way carefully to the barn, wanting not to be embarrassed by falling flat on my face and or by watching trees stripped naked right before my eyes. As they unceremoniously shed their leafy coats to reveal their skinny skeletons, I’m piling on layers on over my…. layers.
I’m treading on their sacred leavings, much like inadvertently walking across poorly marked graves at a cemetery. It is truly holy ground.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn
Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries~
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Aurora Leigh”
All I wanted was a few blackberries.
I admit my objective was just to pick enough for cobbler for Sunday noon dinner after church, oblivious to God burning in the bushes towering over me, around me, snagging me at every opportunity. If I had given it more thought, I would have realized the reaching vines hooking my arms and legs were hardly subtle. The thorns ripped at my skin, leaving me bloody and smarting. The fruit itself stained my hands purple, making them look freshly bruised. I crushed fat vines underfoot, trampling and stomping with my muck boots in order to dive deeper into the bushes. Webs were everywhere, with spiders crawling up my arms and dropping down into my hair. I managed to kick up one hornet’s nest so I called it quits.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, so blinded to all the clues crammed in every nook and cranny of every bush.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, trampling on holy ground with well-protected feet, unwilling to be barefoot and tenderly vulnerable.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, the lure of black gold plucked at the cost of rips and scratches and tears.
What I got was burned by a bush…
and a few blackberries for tomorrow’s crammed-with-heaven cobbler.
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 that holy ground be respected by the removal of Moses’ sandals. There is no need to be protected from my skin touching holy ground–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. 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.