The two feet of shoeless holiness.


I find myself thinking about holiness a lot these days.

One of the defining narratives that has shaped my understanding is Moses and the Burning Bush (in Exodus 3). Moses sees a bush burning without burning up. He goes over to investigate. He is addressed by a voice who names him and commands him to take off his sandals because he is standing on________? That’s right, ‘holy ground’.

This story, along with others gave me the impression that holiness is something a bit stern. I get the image of Moses being scolded for wearing his dirty shoes and dragging mud into the kitchen. Holiness starts to sound like tidiness, something unblemished and unspoiled by the dusty, muddy world we inhabit. So if God is Holy, he must be separate from all the stuff I am not separate from. He must be untouched by all that messiness I am wading through. Right?

A few years ago, I gave up wearing shoes for Lent. It was a foolhardy thing to do. But I have always had a bit of the sporadic-ascetic in me. So for 6 weeks in late -Autumnal Dunedin (45th Parallel) I walked around in bare feet. I also wasn’t driving at the time, so I walked everywhere.

Apart from the cold I learnt something. My shoes had been sheltering me from the real world, the real world of damp footpaths, and stoney paths through the Botanic Gardens. The real world of long wet grass and the worn wooden doorstep of my flat on George St. The pain of the gravel track on the cold mornings, and the utter joy and relief of the carpet when I arrived. During those 6 weeks I was inescapably aware of the world around and beneath me. The barrier had been removed, and now I felt the pleasure and the pain of engaging with the world, rather than staying protected and disconnected.

What if this has something to with the Burning Bush? You see, Jesus doesn’t present us with an image of holiness that is all to do with keeping your feet out of the mud and your hands clean. Jesus instead presents us with an image of holiness that is about reaching out, reconnecting, reforging broken bonds between God and people, people and people, people and creation.

What if the command for Moses to remove his sandals is not about this, ‘Get those muddy shoes out of my house!’ kind of holiness.

What if it God saying, ‘Moses, I am here. This very ground is alive with my presence. Now take off your shoes so there is nothing at all between us. Yes, that’s how it should be.’

  • Jannah

    Very interesting thoughts Malcolm.

    July 3, 2014
  • Adrian

    Thanks for the invite Malcolm. I think you articulate something that is true of many people’s understanding of God. I can certainly identify with trying to approach a God on egg shells. A god who wants appeasing but is never pleased, especially with any mess.

    Thinking about approaching God barefooted is great imagery. I’ll post a poem I wrote awhile back “Barefoot in my Backyard”. I found it helpful to think about God at work and at play in the created world, where we’re invited too. It’s profoundly kiwi in imagery because in most countries around the globe it is the way of the poor to be barefoot. New Zealand is unique because there is next to nothing that can harm you (save the cold). In New Zealand to go barefooted is to celebrate being like a child again, care free and restful and ready for any simple adventure. What makes it holy? Perhaps it is helpful to think of Christ in that same state – barefooted, vulnerable and rejoicing. That’s the God I’m finding is inviting me in. That’s the God whose innocence and mirth leaves me dumbfounded, because I can’t quite believe what Grace appears to be… it’s nothing I could have conceived of myself.

    By the way, steel capped boots feature in the poem too and take the meditation in a slightly different direction. Without unpacking it all, it’s the same invitation by the same un-containable God.
    Yes, let us be found by the God who is ever-present. That would be to share in his holiness moment by moment.

    Barefoot in my Backyard – Adrian Taylor

    Jesus met me barefoot in my backyard
    “Kia ora”
    His voice came to me like a bellbird
    Like Rest itself
    not hard
    not wild
    but calm

    He appeared to me that day
    I was not that surprised
    For He had come to take away
    all our composted waste
    That I should not want

    He was rugged, tanned and strong
    I remember His look of welcome
    must have mirrored mine
    What presence did He bring? I wondered
    as He passed the washing line
    (His singlet bore the marks of where He had perspired)

    My kids thought He was Christmas
    and leapt for joy unburdened
    We danced around the sprinkler’s fountain
    The Sun paused for sheer enjoyment

    He took the load of freshly cut grass
    a task
    a work
    a labour of delight
    In a moment he turned and gave
    a smile and a bloke-ish nod
    And with the handshake of creation spoke
    He breathed at last and came to me
    like a bellbird taking flight
    in strength
    in wildness
    in light

    He appeared to me that day
    I was completely rapt
    as Christ strode out of sight
    I see The Feet of Peace
    Are ever steel-capped
    I am

    July 4, 2014
    • Thanks for sharing this Adrian. A real delight. The last stanza particularly.

      July 4, 2014

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