Tag Archives: holy ground

Barefoot

“Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals,
for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3: 5

 

The flap of skin hung limply as blood spilled from my big toe. I was always stubbing my toes, but that did not stop me from going barefoot. All summer long my feet, painted Mercurochrome orange , were recovering from some new assault. I stopped my play long enough to howl and go inside for a band aid, which soon fell off and turned up later in the sandbox or on the kitchen floor.

I went everywhere barefoot. Rides in the car with the ribbed, rubber mats on the floor and to the A & P, where the linoleum was slick and a little sticky. My feet loved the smooth oiled wooden floor in the Dime Store, where you could watch the cashews riding a little merry go round under a heat lamp and buy them warm and salty. I sprinted over the hot blacktop parking lot to place my order for a chocolate dipped cone at the Dairy Queen. Creeping over sharp edged dirt clods in the garden, while crying, Ouch, ouch, ouch!”; quick little steps over the sharp gravel in the alley;  sprinting and sliding across the playground through dew drenched grass, I gathered information about the world through the soles of my feet.

I used my bare feet to climb up the playground slide, perch on the jungle gym, and entertain my friends by picking up pencils with my toes.  At Mrs. Wendel’s house next door, I sat on her  kitchen chair waving my feet and spreading my toes in the air as I ate the world’s best cookies. I found Nancy Drew mysteries at the public library with its cool polished floors and lovely smell of books. In winter I toasted my tootsies over the oil furnace grate in our dining room. Summers I challenged my brother to contests over who could hold his bare foot on an ice cube the longest.

Out at Grandpa’s in the country, I stepped carefully around chicken droppings. I hated the slimy feel of the stuff between my toes. I dug my feet down in warm beach sand, kicked up the soft talcum puff of dirt roads, splashed in creeks, slipped on mossy rocks, and screamed to discover that the strips of gooey mud clinging to my feet turned out to be leeches.

In the timeless land of a child’s summer,  I headed out each day, banging my feet against uneven sidewalk, where tree roots heaved and broke concrete into toe traps for children and the elderly. I caught my toes on furniture, had them run over with tricycles, wheel barrows and stomped on by my brother. (He will deny this.) My feet were acquainted with the occasional sickening goo of dog manure and the large disgusting toad, who liked to take a snooze in the cool of the evening just outside the back door. I checked the bottom of my foot for warts for weeks after the two of us collided and the toad lurched out from under my foot into the darkness.

Mercurochrome

Other hazards included stickers, splinters, bee stings, broken glass, and the ultimate horror of my mother: a rusty nail. The Rusty Nail loomed nearly as dangerous as polio or a communist in my childhood.  Once, running across a dock to leap in the lake, I caught a dock cleat between two toes. I played and swam all day. In the evening mom took me to Doc Jackson’s office where he cleaned out the debris between my toes and gave me a shot.

I even fought with my feet. My brother and I staged what we called feet-foot battles on the couch in the living room. The game was that we were trapped on a cliff with a thousand foot drop off and had enough food for only one of us to live for a year. We also had broken our arms in this scenario, so we had to fight for our survival with our feet and kick the other off the cliff/couch into certain death.

When a trip required shoes, I usually couldn’t find them. I remember when mom finally put her properly shod foot down.

“Put your shoes on! You can’t go uptown barefoot.”

“Why not, Mom?”

“Because old men spit on the sidewalks.”

That news gave me pause. Uptown there were no signs that said No shoes. No shirts. No service. I liked the signs with dripping blue icicles and the invitation, Come in. It’s cool inside! It would not be until after I had left home that my parents had air conditioning. Until her death a few years ago, my mother’s idea of a special treat was still going out somewhere for a “cool drink,” which meant lemonade or  Seven Up and air conditioning.

Today arthritis has crippled the joint of one of my toes. Something called Morton’s neuroma led  to the purchase of orthotic insoles. One toenail has decided to grow like a ram’s horn, partly due to injury and genetics. My mother had one of these toes too. Yet I still walk around the house and yard barefoot as much as possible and catch my toes on furniture.

 

I don’t know if my distaste for shoes has anything to do with my love for God, though the Holy One does seem to have a preference for a bare foot. When God told Moses to remove his sandals before the burning bush, God did not say take off your hat or your cloak or your tunic. Removing shoes is a sign of respect in many faiths. Perhaps God is asking us here to put nothing between our naked selves and the holy ground of God’s being.  No pricy Manolo, Gucci, or Louis Vuitton’s, but rather, the simple and sometimes stinky vulnerability of a bare foot is what pleases the Lord.

We can pick up an amazing amount of information through the soles of our feet. They also hold countless memories.  Maybe buried in our DNA is a holiness sensing device, which only works when we take off our shoes. I have attended church services where the custom was for people to leave their shoes at the entrance to the Sanctuary.  They worshiped together barefoot. There was something so dear and, at the same time, profound in seeing all those shoes lined up in neat rows at the door with people sitting around or kneeling with their little piggies hanging out.

Holiness demands honesty and simplicity. Pretense, denial, deceit, and anything I might put on to cover up the truth of my own weakness, shame, or deep need must be removed, as we move closer to holiness. There are so many things we can put between ourselves and direct contact with the holiness of God on this good earth. God’s partiality for a bare foot over a resume wipes away any illusions that my worth is related to my bank account, or accomplishments. Maybe God is only a sucker for a well turned ankle, but I think it is our childlike, barefoot vulnerability and humility which God can’t resist.

I miss those barefoot days. I think I was closer to something essential, earthy and real. I want to spend less time walking back and forth in sensible shoes in the ivory tower of my head, and more time trodding the messy ecstasy of the naked sole.

God of the Bare Foot,
help me this day to take off
whatever I try to put on
between myself
and your wondrous love.

 

This is a revised version of a blog previously posted 7.26.2010

Special Note 
for Topeka, Kansas Area Readers

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Topeka area residents, watch for a fun way to support local charities, including The Sanctuary Foundation. Save this date: June 3, 7:00 am – 6:00 pm, at  Fairlawn Mall. 

On that day your gift to The Sanctuary Foundation fund will be increased by a pro-rated match gift from The Topeka Community Foundation. Watch for more details on how to stretch your dollars in supporting the wonderful work being done in Topeka.

  • We are looking for helpers to sit at our booth for an half hour or so to share with people why The Sanctuary is important to you.
  • We also  need comments from those we serve about what The Sanctuary means to you, how we may have made a difference in your life, stories, anecdotes, etc to help us let others learn more about us. You can comment here, or at our website , on our Facebook page,  by emailing us at lross@fromholyground.org.

Thanks to all your help over the past twenty five years
we are still going strong!

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Manure and a Praying Life

Note to Praying Life Readers:

If you are a subscriber to Holy Ground Quarterly Reflection on  Contemplation  or support the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer you already have received in your mail the letter posted here. A mistake was made by the printer on the envelope enclosed for you to mail in your gifts. The wrong address is printed on that envelope. The printer is sending a postcard to you with the correct address. We have contacted the post office about this error. If you have already sent the incorrectly addressed envelope, please let us know by email or phone lross@fromholyground.org . We will let you know when it makes its way to the correct address: 1600 SW Campbell Ave, Topeka, KS 66604.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. As for the printer, he is deeply repentant and will be forgiven shortly. I figure another twenty-four hours and God’s grace will have overcome my anxious fretting. Besides a wise person told me when I began this ministry, “Your mistakes and failures are like manure for God’s garden in your soul.” I am anticipating a bumper crop in 2014! 

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The Sanctuary Is Celebrating 25 Years !

It all began with a resounding NO. Twenty seven years ago I applied for a church position as head of staff.  Few, if any women were heads of staff anywhere in those years. Still I held out hope, even though I was warned. The clerk of the Presbytery told his wife (who told me), “She doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting that job. And besides, it would kill her creativity.”

When the phone call came and the caller broke the bad news, I wept and stomped my foot. My daughters, who were outside playing, began pounding on the door. Dashing inside, breathless and red-cheeked, they shouted, “Mom. Mom! The wind is blowing. It’s blowing hard. Blowing all over the place. We need something to catch the wind with!”

Laughing in spite of my tears, I reached under the sink and pulled out a couple of big black trash bags. The girls ran back outside. I stood at the door, watching them race up and down the yard with the bags billowing behind them, catching the wind. Their wild exuberance and thrill in the blustery Kansas day, swept away my tears and anger. I felt rinsed clean and surprisingly reoriented.

It would be a while before I fully understood what God was up to in that heartbreaking no. Slowly I began to dare what seemed impossible: to pursue a ministry, which focused on the spiritual lives of people and prayer. As I began to say yes to this deep desire, door after door swung open. At some points I almost wished someone would say no, for I had little idea how to actually accomplish it.

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A ministry of prayer, which included a lifestyle of prayerful solitude, as well as organizational structure, as I envisioned it, was so removed from my denomination’s understanding of what pastors do. There were no models within my tradition. There was no provision for salary, pension, or manuals on how to do this “decently and in order.” I had only something I sensed was missing from many churches – something I and others hungered for – and the will to somehow supply some of these missing pieces.

The work has been challenging. I made mistakes. The Spirit has refined my motives and fine-tuned my sense of what I am to do, and is still challenging me to grow.

I have been immensely blessed. After twenty-five years of listening to people’s stories of their faith, it is still miraculous and thrilling to watch the wind of the Spirit of God at work in an individual soul. I see how personal transformation radiates out into the world, initiating family and community change.

Through the years God has been faithful. Needs are provided for and inspiration given.  You have been faithful too. Once when I was about to give up, one of you who had come for a visit to the hermitage said, “I have faith in you. I believe you can do this.” I have never forgotten those words of encouragement.

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You are why The Sanctuary exists. Your desire to deepen your faith, willingness to struggle with difficult issues, to pray and nurture yourself for service to your church, community, and the world has summoned this little “Roadside Fruit Stand,” as one of our board members called it.

You are also the how of The Sanctuary, for we are nothing without you – a far-flung community of varied faith expressions, people of compassion, wisdom, and love. You provide accountability for this ministry, a community, and a covering of prayer, as you teach us what you need and how to better serve you. You spread the news of this Fruit Stand out here in Kansas through your friends and contacts. Your subscriptions and generous gifts make this possible.  Thank you so very much!

As we celebrate 25 years in the coming year, we have some surprises and good things to share with you. Watch for a new website coming soon. Meet some new board members. Get the inside news on the progress of Loretta’s new book, Account for the Hope. Keep up with us on Facebook and our blog, The Praying Life, Pinterest, and Twitter.

We remind you to renew your subscription as it comes due. (The date of your subscription expiration is on your address label in the upper right hand corner. ) And please donate to The Sanctuary Fund. Your subscription fee allows us to break even on publishing costs. Additional gifts to The Sanctuary Fund enable us to maintain our web presence, offer spiritual direction at reduced rates for those of limited means, pay for business operations, and keep this roadside Fruit Stand open.

If you have questions  about your donation or subscription, let us know. And please keep sharing your feedback, ideas, and comments on how we can best serve you. You can phone us at 785-354-7122 or email at lross@fromholyground.org. We always love to chat with those we serve.

The wind is blowing here in Kansas today. Dried leaves rattle as they tumble down my street. The maple shakes out her falling locks, shedding what is no longer useful, and waves her dark branches to an approaching winter storm. To begin this celebration I am going to reach under the sink, pull out some trash bags, and go catch some wind. Will you join me?

Yours, chasing after the Holy Spirit with love and gratitude,

Loretta F. Ross

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5: 22-23

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Holy Ground, a quarterly reflection, serving up spiritual food that sticks to the ribs for twenty three years.

Holy Ground, a quarterly reflection, serving up spiritual food that sticks to the ribs for twenty three years.

                       Back issues of this little newsletter can be found in every stack of papers in my house – I move them from my desk to the kitchen counter to the pile of mail on the dining room table, until they eventually become dog-eared and fall apart. I just can’t seem to throw an issue of Holy Ground away.
                    Why? Because Loretta Ross, an ordained Presbyterian clergy woman and a fine writer, puts equal amounts of inspiration and whimsy into every issue. Even though Holy Ground is a thin little folder – 7 or 8 pages, one essay, really – it’s always refreshing, renewing,; an awakening of sorts.
                                     Review by Susan Jelus in A New Song May, 1999

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I want to thank you for all your support, shares, comments, follows, and subscriptions to the Praying Life blog over the past three years. You continually call me to deeper truth, deeper prayer, and better writing. You are each a gift in my life.

Here’s the deal: Subscribe to Holy Ground and get the first two issues of a new series of issues on contemplation FREE!

What is Holy Ground?
Before I started writing the Praying Life blog I had been publishing a quarterly reflection on the life of prayer called Holy Ground for over twenty years. In 2000 Sheed and Ward published the best of those essays in the book, Letters from the Holy Ground –Seeing God Where You Are. I occasionally feature excerpts from this book here.

Who are you really and why should I invest in a subscription to Holy Ground, even if I get two free copies?
Many of the subscribers of Holy Ground have been reading this little publication since its beginning. The writing in Holy Ground is similar to what you find in my blog here, except that each essay is a lengthier consideration of some aspect of our life in God. Many Holy Ground issues make their way to Bible study classes and prayer groups.

As with The Praying Life blog, the writing is informed by my thirty years of listening deeply to the stories of others about their faith lives. As a spiritual director I have spent thousands of hours listening  and learning of the struggle, the suffering, and the beauty of growing in the likeness of Christ. My ministry as a pastor, as well as personal study and training in theology, scripture, and faith formation also shape my understanding of the church in this tumultuous time. I am accountable to a Board of Directors, a member of Spiritual Directors International, and an honorably retired member of the Presbytery of Northern Kansas. I take very seriously the access others give me through my writing and seek to be held accountable by other professionals and my church.

Finally and most important, is my commitment to prayer. Setting aside a day of solitude and prayer weekly, is the only credential I offer of any lasting value. For twenty five years I have focused my ministry on prayer first, last, and always. This is the core of who I am.

In the words of Oswald Chambers, “ I am called to live in such a perfect relationship with God that my life produces a yearning for God in the lives of others, not admiration for myself. … God’s purpose is … getting me to the place where God can use me. Let God do what he wants.” My Utmost for His Highest.

For me prayer is the process of continued surrender into the will of God. I am not my own, but belong to One greater than I, whose purposes for me I generally resist, but ultimately seem to surrender to.

So Tell Me More about Holy Ground
This new series of Holy Ground issues is on Contemplation and the first issue of the series, which you get free with our offer, is a general overview of contemporary contemplation and a consideration of several definitions of this somewhat obscure word.

The second issue of the series, which you also get free with our offer is a long, loving look at what it means to pay attention.

Here is an excerpt from the first issue:

One learns a lot from the disciplined practice of the present moment, or mindfulness, as it is sometimes called. As I watch the fleeting shadows of my mind’s picture show, I encounter my restlessness and my estrangement from my deepest self, where Holiness abides.

Day after day my ego strides with a flourish to its pulpit to justify, defend, or convince imagined audiences of its own certainties. Persistent and untiring, it plants its elbows on the podium and tightly grips the sides. Posturing and pontificating, it attempts to prevail against the horror of its diminishment and disappearance in the embrace of what is beyond our naming.

We sit still as stones as love stalks us, waiting just beyond the edges of our awareness to pounce upon its prey and carry us off between its teeth into the divine depths of each moment. . . . .

The past thirty five years we have seen a tremendous growth and flourishing of contemplative practices world wide. Understanding and appreciation of contemplative prayer have grown in many faith traditions.

The hunger for communion with God and the development of the spiritual aspect of our being has spilled out from churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples to PBS special documentaries, internet, coffee shops, retreat centers, and hundreds of programs in faith formation world wide, as well as secularized versions in business and the sciences.

So what is this contemplation? …

Excerpted from Vol. 23, No.2 Summer 2012 of Holy Ground, copyright©2012 Loretta F. Ross

By subscribing to Holy Ground, you will get more encouragement for your journey. A year’s subscription is $35.00, which with our offer includes six issues, instead of the usual four. That is a 50% savings.

Subscribe today. Click here. You will soon will receive in your email copies of the first two issues in the series on contemplation. You will be glad you did. And you will help us keep offering serious rib stickin’ soul food. If you would prefer the printed snail mail version, check that option in the drop down box and we will get your free issues in the mail right away.

If you have any problems or questions, leave a comment here, look for the facebook page The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer, or email me at lross@fromholyground.org.

Again, dear ones, thank you from the bottom of my heart for carefully tending to your own souls and including this blog in your diet. If you already subscribe to Holy Ground, thank you so much! How about giving a gift subscription to a friend, or passing this post on to someone you know?

What Readers  Say about Holy Ground
Holy Ground essays sustain long after the rise and fall of scandal, political wranglings, and the garish blare of media sound bites.

This issue is one of my favorites. Thank you for the call to contemplation. I especially liked your sharing of the process, the distractions, even related thoughts that are not in the present. I’ve experienced all of those! M.T. August, 2012

Wow, Loretta, you went all out for your Autumn Holy Ground. I received it yesterday and read it this morning. Really, for me, one of the most powerful things you’ve written since I’ve been receiving your reflections. It was truly inspired. I am grateful for this gift that resulted from your deep prayer life. Thank you, thank you – for sitting, for waiting, for praying.It is really an incredible reflection. – S. P. Dec. 2009

Hi Loretta – I am an avid and appreciative reader of Holy Ground. It waters my spirit without fail. Thank you for sharing your gift of spiritual insight and ability to express it in words and white space. H. E. Dec. 2011

Volume 18, No 2 arrived this week. It is poignant, and hits a mark in all of us. But what I want to say here is thank you for your continuing transparency, and your courage to share your deep self with all of us. Not only your ministry, wisdom and insight, but your willingness to share yourself with so many, is a great gift. P.M. August 2007

Your newsletters are always so deep and challenging, the most profound Christian spirituality around. Thank you, love, C. M. Dec. 2009

I am so glad Holy Ground was forwarded when I moved from Topeka to Cincinnati. The messages are among some of the most life giving ones that are out there. Thank you for this opportunity to keep receiving it!!! L.O. Oct. 2007

Summer 2009 HG

Holy Ground.  goes great with a cup of coffee!

Ain’t Nothin to Worry About

She is sitting on a chair in her bedroom. I show her the new pants and blouse. “Try them on mom. I got them for you.”

“Oh, I don’t need any new clothes.”  She gestures to a pile of folded shirts on her dresser.

“Mom, you are holding up your pants with safety pins. That blouse is worn thin.”

She slowly pulls on the new pants, then stands and hitches them over her narrow hips. I help her button the blouse. We both like the results. “You look great mom.”

She smiles, then announces, “After ninety the worst is over.” We observe a thoughtful silence, and then burst into laughter. Eyes twinkling, she says, “Then they dress you. They fix your breakfast.”

The good news from Irma: if you are over ninety, relax. The worst is over. If you are not, take heart, the best is yet to come.

When I was a child the word used for senile dementia was “childish.” Uncle Lou was “getting childish.” Grandpa “was childish.” That meant that they were older and acted young somehow. Because of this, we were to understand and watch over them a little more. It was a gentle term, a matter of fact acceptance. When mother returned from visiting blind Aunt Ethel in the rest home, who, after she broke her hip, never got out of bed again, mom would say, “Aunt Ethel told me to go out back and get a chicken and dress it and make her some chicken and noodles. She doesn’t know where she is. She’s getting childish.” Mom would fix chicken and noodles with a store bought chicken and take them to her anyway.

__________

The house I grew up in is the kind of place where God shuffles around in his jammies and house slippers like part of the family – deeply loved and cherished, but not made a big fuss over.  Mother grew up Quaker and married my Mennonite father, whose family descended from the Swiss Anabaptists of the Reformation period. In some kind of compromise they became Presbyterian. When I told a seminary professor about my parents’ religious pedigree, he remarked, “Well it confirms what I have always felt.  Presbyterianism is many people’s second choice.”

Mother’s pastor brings her communion. She is grateful for the fellowship, but I wonder if the sacrament seems redundant to this old Quaker, already immersed in the Light. When she prays for me and my daughter before our Christmas dinner, she draws the words up from some deep place and forms them with a conviction that leaves me shaken.

My mother’s house has many rooms of treasures. If you come to visit, some of her childishness may rub off on you – her simplicity, transparency, and sense of humor. When two hip twenty-something graphic designers from a big city came for Thanksgiving, they were entranced by the carvings, my deceased father’s fifty year old book on design, the advertising in old magazines, and the relics of native Americans my father found.

The young men rooted around with my daughter in closets and basement, amazed and delighted. Because they had been raised well, they recognized “childishness” and listened to Mom’s stories with kindness and gentleness. Mother showed the same politely curious interest in the tattoos, which covered most of one of the visitor’s arms, as he did in her apple dolls.

Then the visitors all went out to play across the street on the swings and toys in the school yard, snapping photos on their iphones to send to their friends. They arrived early and stayed late. It was nearly midnight before Mom and I turned in on that magical day.

A poem by Thomas Merton has been coming to me lately:

Come my love
pass through my will
as through a window
shine on my life
as on a meadow
I, like the grass,
to be consumed
by the rays of the sun
on a late summer’s morning.

The poem is based on St. Johnof the Cross’s poem, The Dark Night of the Soul. In the poem John compares the soul to a window. He sees the spiritual journey as the process of cleansing and removal of anything in us that might impede or distort the Light of Christ as it passes through our lives. In this process we become more and more transparent and childlike.

My mother drinks her tea this morning as she watches a squirrel and a cardinal at the feeder. “I am remembering,” she says. “I am remembering how when I was a kid and would get upset or complain about something, Pop would say, ‘Oh that ain’t nothing to worry about.’”

“Gosh mom, that doesn’t sound very empathic.”

“Well that is what he would say. ‘Oh, that ain’t nothing to worry about.’” And she smiles out the window.

I want God to pass through me like a window, to shine on my life as on a meadow. I want to be consumed as the grass on a midsummer day.  I can ask for it, pray for it, but I think it ain’t nothing to worry about. In the end such childishness is given simply, quietly in the gracious surrender to growing old.

Mother puts down her tea cup and says, “After ninety three things get interesting. It is like reading a book backwards. I never understood before why people would look at the end of a book and read it first. It is smooth going. You can do what you want. People don’t expect much of you. They think you are childish. They try not to laugh, but you can see they are just dying.

I don’t let on I know.”

 

This post is adapted from Holy Ground, Vol. 19, No. 4  Winter  2009. Holy Ground is a quarterly reflection on the contemplative life, written by Loretta F. Ross, and published by The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer.  

 Go here to read the entire issue online.  Download a FREE copy of Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter 2009. 

There’s a Limit and It’s Good

“There’s a limit!” Mom yells up the stairs. My brother and I are throwing plastic race cars at each other. It is bedtime, and we have been arguing and annoying each other for half an hour. Mom yells again. “If you kids don’t settle down, I am coming up there with a stick with a bee on the end of it.”

That usually did it. The thought of the miraculous power of our mother, who could coax a bee, stinger and all, onto the end of a stick, and stride up the steps, wielding the buzzing weapon, aiming it  at our bottoms,

sobered us right up.

Mom, ninety eight, now lives at Pleasant Manor Care Center and chuckles when I remind of her ability to settle us down.

Her words, there’s a limit, have been coming back to me lately. As I watch the news, listen to the pundits and politicians, and observe my own little world, I hear her saying in that no nonsense way, “There’s a limit!”

There is a limit – to what people can stand, when their boundaries are violated. There is a limit to what people can bear, when their basic needs are unmet, or they are unable to meet them themselves. There is a limit to the foolishness, whining, blaming, and fighting people can take. There is a limit to what the seas, rivers, forests, and the creatures that make their homes in them can survive. There is a limit to human ability to repair, mend, and change. There is a limit to how much suffering, how much trauma a person can endure before he loses hope, meaning, and his mind.

There is a limit. And limits are good.

There are places in creation which dare not be plundered, usurped, or penetrated. These virgin territories of purity and goodness, by definition need to remain separate, apart, and whole in themselves. There is a holiness, which dwells in the core of individuals, communities, and the creation itself. Respect for the singular distinctions of creation lies at the heart of reverence for life itself.


IN PRAISE OF BOUNDARIES

Glory be to God
for bounds and limits.
Thanks be for fences
and for barbed wire
pad locks, bolts
and abrupt unmoving
dead ends

for stop signs
ramparts
split rails
outlines
outskirts
contours
confines
borders
margin, hedge and rim
shore, bank and brow.

Blessed art Thou
for shalts
and for shalt nots
for oughts and shoulds
for prohibition
inhibition
and command.


I praise Thee

for enclosure
circumference, courtyard
croft, crib
corral and coop
pen, balustrade
and fold
for chamber
hutch and manger
paddock, cote and stall
for palisade and parapet
trellis, enclave, wall.

“To be properly bound
is to be properly free,”
said Luther of his God.

So blessed be Thee
for bindings, wraps
and swaddling cloths
for all quilts, covers,
comforter and counterpane
for lids, roofs, tents
hulls, shell, and pod
and all that partitions
holy from profane.

Thank you,
kind and gentle God
for edges, parameters,
and the delicate beauty
of borders thin
that separate this
from that
yes from no
the skin
from the juice
and Thou, sweet Trinity,
from me.

Oh Mighty Fortress,
glad hosannas raise to Thee
for the secret custody
of houses, stable,
shrine and temple
for garden locked
and fountain sealed
where Love tabernacles
under Thy bright wing
in shielded sanctuary.

Praise and laud
forever unto Thee.
Oh Thou art
a most exalted Canopy!
In thy strong shelter
sleeps the virgin
safe and free.

 

 All creatures great and small,
be wary!

Barefoot

“Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals,
for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3: 5
I loved it, even though I was always stubbing my toes. All summer long my big toes, painted bright orange with Mercurochrome, were recovering from some new assault. I stopped my play long enough to howl and go inside for a band aid, which always fell off and turned up later in the sandbox or on the kitchen floor.
I went everywhere barefoot. Rides in the car with the ribbed, rubber mats on the floor, to the A & P, where the linoleum was slick and a little sticky, to the Dime Store where the oiled floor was smooth and fragrant, and you could watch the cashews riding a little merry go round under a heat lamp and buy them warm and salty. I sprinted over the hot blacktop parking lot to place my order for a chocolate dipped cone at the Dairy Queen. Creeping over sharp edged dirt clods in the garden, hobbling over rocks in the alley, running up and down the streets and walks and through dew drenched grass, I picked up information about the world through the soles of my feet.
I used my bare feet to climb up the playground slide, perch on the jungle gym, and entertain my friends by picking up pencils with my toes.  At my neighbor, Mrs. Wendel’s house, I sat on chair swinging my feet in the air and eating a cookie. I found Nancy Drew mysteries at the public library with its cool polished floors and lovely smell of books. In winter I toasted my tootsies over the oil furnace grate. Summers I challenged my brother to contests over who could hold his bare foot on an ice cube the longest.
Out at Grandpa’s in the country, I stepped carefully around the chicken droppings. I was acquainted with the slimy feel of the stuff between my toes. I ambled through my world digging my feet in warm beach sand, kicking up the soft talcum puff of dirt roads, splashing in creeks, slipping on mossy rocks, and screaming to discover that the strips of gooey mud clinging to my feet turned out to be leeches.
Off I would go, banging my toes against uneven sidewalk, where tree roots heaved the concrete into toe catching traps for children and the elderly. I caught my toes on furniture, had them run over with tricycles, wheel barrows and stomped on by my brother. (He will deny this.) There was the occasional sickening goo of dog manure and the large disgusting toad, who had a habit of taking a snooze in the cool of the evening just outside the back door. I checked the bottom of my foot for warts for weeks after that encounter.
Other hazards included stickers, splinters, bee stings, broken glass, and the horror of my mother, a rusty nail. The Rusty Nail loomed nearly as dangerous as polio or a communist in my childhood.  Once, running across a dock to leap in the lake, I caught a dock cleat between two toes. I played and swam all day. In the evening mom took me to Doc Jackson’s office where he cleaned out the debris between my toes and gave me a shot.
I even fought with my feet. My brother and I staged what we called feet-foot battles on the couch in the living room. We were trapped on a cliff with a thousand foot drop off and had enough food for only one of us to live for a year. We also had broken our arms in this scenario, so we had to fight for our survival with our feet and kick the other into oblivion.
When a trip required shoes, I usually couldn’t find them. I remember when mom finally put her properly shod foot down.
“Put your shoes on! You can’t go uptown barefoot.”
“Why not, Mom?”
“Because old men spit on the sidewalks.”
Well, that did give me pause. Uptown there were no signs that said No shoes. No shirts. No service. I do recall signs with dripping blue icicles and the invitation, Come in. It’s cool inside! To this day even though she has had air conditioning for years, my mother’s idea of a special treat is going out somewhere for a “cool drink,” which means lemonade or  Seven Up.
I go barefoot much less these days. Arthritis has set into the joint of one of my toes. Something called Morton’s neuroma led me to the purchase of orthotic insoles.
I don’t know if my distaste for shoes had anything to do with my love for God, though the Holy One does seem to have a preference for a bare foot. When God told Moses to remove his sandals before the burning bush, he didn’t say take off your hat or your cloak or your tunic. Removing shoes is a sign of respect inmany faiths. Perhaps God is asking us to put nothing between our naked selves and the holy ground of God’s being.  No pricy Manolo, Gucci, or Louis Vuitton’s, butrather, the simple and sometimes stinky vulnerability of a bare foot is what pleases the Lord.
You can pick up an amazing amount of information through the soles of your feet. They also hold countless memories.  Maybe buried in our DNA is a holiness sensing device, which only works when we take off our shoes.
Holiness demands honesty and simplicity. Pretense, denial, deceit, and anything I might put on to cover up the truth of my own weakness and deep need must be removed, as we move closer to holiness. There are so many things we can put between ourselves and direct contact with the holiness of God on this good earth. God’s partiality for a bare foot over a resume wipes away any illusions that my worth is related to my bank account, or accomplishments. Maybe God is only a sucker for a well turned ankle, but I think it is our childlike, barefoot vulnerability and humility which he can’t resist.
I miss those barefoot days. I think I was closer to something essential, earthy and real. These days I walk back and forth in sensible shoes in the ivory tower of my head, rather than trod the messy ecstasy of the naked sole.
I do go out, weather permitting, without shoes to pick up my morning paper. I feel the rough walk under my feet and the wet grass between my toes. I look at the sky, the birds. I say:
Good Morning, Lord.
Help me this day to take off
whatever I try to put on
between myself
and your wondrous love.
Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org Tracking Holiness – Newsletter
Contact the author at lross@fromholyground.org,  www.fbook.me/sanctuary
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