Touching Holy Ground

If I had my druthers, I’d never wear shoes, but would walk barefoot all of the time. Putting on my shoes is the last thing I do before leaving the house and taking them off is the first thing I do when I walk in the door.

I especially like walking barefoot outside – whether it be on dirt or grass, or even the pavement. I love feeling the heat of the sun on the black pavement, and, although this isn’t the time of year for walking outside barefoot, I confess I took advantage of the relatively warm days we’ve been having to run out for the mail barefoot the other day. There is something about feeling the ground beneath my feet that I love – it makes me feel connected with everything around me.

Given my love for the feel of the ground beneath my feet, I was delighted to read the following passage from Brother David Steindl-Rast’s Common Sense Spiriuality. Leave it to Brother David to turn walking barefoot into sacrament:

There is only one condition for seeing life sacramentally: “Take off your shoes!” Realize that the ground on which we stand is holy ground. The act of taking off our shoes is a gesture of thanksgiving, and it is through thanksgiving that we enter into sacramental life. We shouldn’t forget the grace received in going barefoot either. Going barefoot actually helps. There is no more immediate way of getting in touch with reality than direct physical contact: to feel the difference between walking on sand, on grass, on smooth granite warmed by the sun, on the forest floor; to let the pebbles hurt us for a while; to squeeze the mud between our toes. There are so many ways of gratefully touching God’s healing power through the earth. Whenever we take off the dullness of being-used-to it, of taking things for granted, life in all its freshness touches us and we see that all life is sacramental. If we could measure our aliveness, surely it is the degree to which we are in touch with the Holy One as the inexhaustible fire in the midst of all things.

So take of your shoes and gratefully touch the ground, touching God’s healing power through the earth.


Touching the Holy

I had the pleasure and privilege the other day of visiting Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis, a community of seven Visitation Sisters who provide a contemplative presence in the inner city. Their mission is “to share prayer, hope and God’s blessings with the people in our neighborhood and to receive their blessedness.” The community was formed out of a commitment to “be one with those who live on the edge economically, and who are often marginalized by society.”

My colleague Verna arranged the visit and she and I had tea with several of the Sisters before joining them for their evening prayer. During our discussion they talked about their work in the community.

I was humbled and inspired listening them talk about the people they encounter. One that they mentioned is a homeless man who suffers (as so many homeless do) from a mental illness. He shows up at their door now and then for prayer or a meal. He seems to have a knack for showing up on imporant liturgical feasts and other special occasions. They spoke of one occasion when they were having a celebration of the 70th birthday of one of the sisters. Several of her family members were there and, as they were about to sit down to the table for supper (formally set for the occasion), in walked the man. They simply pulled up another chair and invited him to join them for their celebratory meal. Afterward, they all moved to the living room, where a fire was set, for coffee and converation. After a while, he got up to leave. Thanking them, he told them that he had been out on the streets since early that morning and had been cold, and tired and hungry when he knocked on their door.

It would have been so easy when the unexpected visitor came to the door to say, “Can you come back later, we’re busy now” or to put a sign outside that they were closed for the evening. Some might have done so. Others might have let him in, but quietly resented the presence of an outsider at a special “family” gathering. But this community welcomed him with love and treated him with dignity. And, in their hospitality and care of him, they fed the hungry Jesus and provided warmth to the cold Jesus, and gave rest to the tired Jesus.

Sr. Mary Frances Reis reminisced about the “old times” when the nuns sat in a parlor, often behind a grille, talking to visitors who came. The visitors, she said, liked to touch the nuns – their arms or their veils – with the idea that they were touching the holy. What she gets to do now, she said, is to touch the holy through her encounters with the people in the community.

These women touch the holy, day after day. They are a worthy model for all of us for how to be Christ to others and how to see Christ in others.

You can learn more about the Visitation Monastery by visiting their website here.