Tori Gilkeson (’16)
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Image courtesy wordle.net
Exodus 3:1-5 (CEB) • Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. 2 The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. 3 Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up. 4 When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” Moses said, “I’m here.” 5 Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.”
Introduction and Midrash
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to take off your shoes. I won’t force you, if you don’t want to, but I want to talk about why I like the idea of worshipping barefoot. Some of it, of course, is personal taste, but I’m far from the only person who likes to take my shoes off in church. The passage that David just read is the one which comes to mind whenever I take my shoes off at the Healing Service each week. Because this is holy ground. Right here in the Kay Spiritual Life Center. And that world out there, right outside those doors, is holy ground too. God’s creation is all around us, and God is in her creation, giving every place the potential to be holy ground, if we pay close enough attention. While looking for worship planning materials for this service, I came across something talking about a Midrash about Exodus 3. I don’t know how reliable this source was, but Midrash are pretty much my favorite thing ever. They’re like fanfiction of the Bible. So anyways, this Midrash asked the question “Why was the bush burning but never consumed?” and the answer intrigued me. I had always envisioned this bush pretty much just popping into existence about three seconds before Moses notices it. But the answer given in this Midrash was so that it wouldn’t burn up before Moses noticed as he walked past the bush each day and God waited for him to recognize God’s presence. The bush—and the holy ground—were there all along, Moses just didn’t see them.
There is an idea of “thin places” which comes from Celtic—or perhaps even pre-Celtic—tradition in the British Isles. “Thin places” are places where the veil or boundary between worlds is—well—thin. Where the spiritual world can be felt in the physical. If you’ve ever watched the BBC show Merlin, you probably have some idea of what a thin place is. In one episode there is a literal tear in the veil between worlds, but even in others the characters come across holy places of the Old Religion. Many of the characters comment on feeling something special there, something sacred, and though they don’t use the term explicitly, I would hazard a guess that the writers of the show knew about thin places and did what they did on purpose. I’ve also heard a decent number of people talk about thin places in church, but many of them seemed to miss something important. They often ignore the fact that the original “thin places” were geographic locations. The place itself—in its most physical sense—was the thin place. It was the physical location of the thin place which affected people’s experience of the spiritual there rather than their state of mind influencing the place. There was something inherent in the physical location which made it spiritual regardless of the actions of humans. We don’t make a place holy; we just learn to recognize and experience the holiness that is already in God’s creation.
Humans as Physical Beings
Not only do we experience God’s creation in the physical world, we are physical beings ourselves. We exist in and as physical bodies—whether the Gnostics like it or not. And so our experience of the world is necessarily a physical experience. We feel things to know what they are or simply to experience the different textures. We take for granted our ability to feel, but in many ways our lives depend on it. Our ability to interact with our environment by feeling keeps us from running into things continuously, allows us to type without looking at the keyboard and use touch screen devices, gives us greater control over how firmly or gently we touch and grip things, lets us know to stop doing harmful things because we are or might be injured. The primary thing most people think of when they think of feeling is a hand. We mainly use our hands when consciously feeling the world around us, but the rest of our body feels as well. Including our feet, which are pretty much as sensitive as our hands. Yet we walk around all the time with shoes on our feet to “protect” them from the world and in doing so limit our ability to experience the world around us through them. I’m not saying we should never wear shoes. They do serve their purpose, but we don’t walk around constantly wearing gloves to protect our hands, so maybe we should let our feet out a little more often. Every once in a while, take off your shoes and experience the world through your feet.
We wear shoes because our feet are vulnerable. But perhaps that vulnerability isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe we should be vulnerable before God, exposing a part of ourselves that we often keep protected. Before they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were about as vulnerable as you can be, entirely naked and unashamed. I would hazard a guess that we’re all more than a little unwilling to take off our clothes and worship in the nude. Nor am I asking you to. But taking off our shoes, baring our feet, can be vulnerable in its own way. Being vulnerable means risking injury or discomfort, but holding back means missing out on the chance to experience something fully. If we take our shoes off, we might step on something sharp—or on a Lego—and injure our feet. But we also get to feel the earth beneath us in all its glory. Just as when we are vulnerable with our selves. Being vulnerable, admitting weakness and imperfection, allows us to be loved and accepted as our whole authentic selves. By God, ourselves, and one another. And when we admit that we’ve made a mistake, we have a chance to learn and a chance to be forgiven. Our relationships with one another benefit from vulnerability, and our relationship with God and faith can too. When we reveal to God the deepest, most innermost parts of ourselves, we allow her in to that brokenness. And by sharing our burdens, a portion of the weight is lifted from our shoulders.
Taking of our shoes is a physical reminder and symbol of our vulnerability and our need to be vulnerable. And that same vulnerability gives us the chance to experience our world in new ways. To better appreciate the wonder and majesty of creation all around us, the holiness that is already there, if we only take the time to stop and look. To take off our shoes and feel it beneath our bare feet.