What Can Shoes Reveal?

While at a two-year study program, I had a significant dream about shoes. A few weeks earlier, I attended a weekend of prayer with the Trappistine Sisters in Northern California. Each morning I participated in the sisters’ walking meditation requiring that we remove our shoes. Stepping barefooted on the wooden floor of the chapel was a great way to get in touch not only with the smooth wood but also with the whole earth below.

This memory of walking barefoot served as an “aha” moment because I have always walked in and trusted THEM on my journey all my life.  Now the message was to trust the EARTH below my feet. Not just the dirt below my shoes, but the ground everywhere in the world, the WHOLE WORLD. Our body is part of this earth, this SACRED EARTH everywhere. “Dust we are and to dust we shall return.” Trusting the earth while walking without shoes included my whole body, my thoughts, and my feelings. To this day, when walking outside, I consider it a sacred moment each time my foot comes down and “kisses” the earth, the sacred earth, the earth that helps to give life in so many ways.

Thick Nanh Hand, to focus on the sacredness of the ground, describes it as “kissing the ground of the earth” below each step one takes. In Exodus 3:5, God said, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals because you are standing on holy ground.”

This revelation broadens my understanding of the many ways our bodies come to know. It is not only from books, but also by all of our experiences including our mind, feelings and emotions, e.g. switching from teaching to making music and learning to play two more instruments is a way of getting in touch with the earth of my being.

Most of the time growing up on the farm we were barefoot outside and inside, especially in warm weather. Shoes were worn for Sunday worship and going to school. Some cultures, especially in warmer climates, go barefoot year round.

Fifteen years ago while at a conference in the cities, I experienced a sight I will never forget. One half of the gym floor was full of display booths, the other half of the gym floor had rows and rows of worn army boots left behind by veterans killed while on duty. I walked up and down the rows looking closely at the many very worn military shoes, each one having its own story. Some had torn shoe laces, many of them had the tongue hanging out, for most of them the leather was quite worn. All I could do was to stand in awe and gratitude to these heroic men and women for having left spouses and family to protect and serve our country.

Forrest Gump, in the move by that name, said, “You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their shoes. “That may be true then but not now. Looking at many of the professionals now, one often would see tennis shoes with various colors, different designs, peeking out from under their best suit.

The style of shoes sisters wore when I entered the monastery were all pretty much the same. They were black, tie shoes, with an inch and a half heel. They were called “nun’s shoes.” We had a good pair for Sunday, one for in the house, and one for outside work. Now I own two pairs of dress shoes, two pairs of work shoes, two pairs of sandals, and one pair of slippers. Still a long ways to catch up with Imelda Marcos who had 300 pairs. Or was it 3000?

One Saturday morning while in the novitiate, Sister Justina, in a very charitable mood, put a note on the hall bulletin board which read: IF YOU BRING YOUR SHOES TO THE LAUNDRY ROOM TABLE BY 10:00 A.M., I WILL HAVE THEMPOLISHED BY SUPPER TIME WHEN YOU CAN PICK THEM UP. The table in the middle was quite big. There were 42 novices. Two shoes make a pair, and 84 shoes by the evening, making quite a heap. NUNS’ SHOES were all pretty much the same. As sisters would bring their shoes, they were not always too careful about the placement of the shoes. So as some shoes were handled here or there, soon the partners got separated. When Justina heard that the sisters were having a hard time finding their matching shoe, she learned that she should have done her math and, thus, find an easier way to be charitable.

What story do some of your shoes reveal about you?

Margaret Mandernach, OSB

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