by Chris McDonnell
The soles of our feet are a part of our body that we rarely see, usually because we are standing on them, or as we grow older, they are a long way down and ankle joints become stiffer with the passing years. Throughout our lives our feet take our weight, give balance to our bodies and give us the means of locomotion.
Rarely in the affluent West will we see people walking barefoot, sockless feet in sandals yes, but barefoot in the street, no.
Yet walking barefoot in certain places is a sign of respect, of deference to the ground we are walking on. Merton walked barefoot through the valley of the Buddhas at Polonnaruwa when he visited there just days before his death. Entry into a mosque requires that you to leave your shoes at the door. We often take off our shoes when we enter someone’s house.
In the picture that heads this post, there is a beautiful symmetry in the soles of feet. Yet here in this image of a kneeling man there is a simple story of trust and obedience, recognition of place. I recall the words of Seamus Ahearne, a priest of Dublin:
“Yes. The parish is a holy place. I take off my shoes”.
There is implied deference to a larger presence and the symbolism of removing shoes is much more than an attempt to keep the carpet clean.
With Ash Wednesday and the start of the Season we call Lent there is a call to spiritual awareness, an opportunity to strip down to the bare essentials and see what really matters. Who we are, where we are and where we might be heading. A time of preparation that leads us to the mystery of the Triduum, the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.
TS Eliot in his poem Ash Wednesday, published in 1930, writes of a Christian’s pilgrimage:
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
Lent is a time of return, that which was lost is found again and a new beginning is sought. Lost sheep are brought back to the fold.
It had strayed beyond the fence head down,
to graze the grass verge by the roadside.
Careless of traffic, a single sheep,
carrying a rust-red stain of identity,
had walked away from the field flock.
Slowly it cropped the road edge,
unhurried, waiting to be found
Chris McDonnell is a regular reader and commenter at Pray Tell.