The Spiritual Practice of Going Barefoot

by Melannie Svoboda SND on August 26, 2013

Someone has said that going barefoot can be a spiritual practice. There’s a scriptural basis for this assertion. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, God told him to take off his shoes, for he was standing on holy ground (Ex. 3:5). But isn’t all ground holy? If so, shouldn’t we take off our shoes regularly so we can be one with our sacred earth?

As kids, many of us went barefoot in summer. I know I did. Right after school ended, we kids celebrated this happy event by kicking off our shoes and socks and running around our farm barefoot. At first the gravel in the driveway hurt our feet. We’d grimace and say “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” bare feetas we walked across the driveway that first time in June. But by August, after we had built up some callouses, we could run across the driveway with ease. Before going to bed each night, our mother scrubbed our dirty feet so vigorously it hurt. But that was a small price to pay for the freedom of no shoes.

When I spent a month in Korea a few years back, I was impressed with their practice of removing shoes when entering a house. At our provincial center in Inchon, there are little cubby holes by the entrance where the sisters deposit their shoes when coming in off the street. Even when we visited a kindergarten there, we were asked to remove our shoes and were given slippers to wear during our visit.

In India I was always taking my shoes off every time we entered a shrine or temple. There would be hundreds of shoes at the entrance to a major temple. At first I was reluctant to remove my shoes. I feared picking up some horrible parasite. I also feared I would never see my shoes again! But I quickly learned some people make a living at the entrances to these shrines by offering to guard your shoes for you while you are inside the shrine–for a few shekels, of course. I never lost a pair of shoes the whole time I was in India–although every evening I scrubbed my feet very vigorously!

When I lived alone in Detroit for a few years, I noticed something about myself. Every time I came back to my apartment at the end of the day, I’d automatically kick off my shoes. I usually stayed barefoot or in stocking feet until I crawled into bed at night. When I visited my relatives in the Czech Republic, I saw that the Czechs (like the Koreans) remove their shoes before entering their homes. If you look down a hall in an apartment building, for example, you’ll see a half dozen shoes stacked outside every door. My propensity for bare feet must be a genetic thing!

africa feetI am not advocating that we go barefoot all the time, of course. Even as a child I had to put shoes on to go inside the coop or barn. In Africa, I saw many children without shoes–not because they were doing a spiritual practice, but because they couldn’t afford shoes. There are many organizations that provide new or gently used shoes for kids in developing countries or even our own country. You might want to check these out:  Soles4Souls, Walk in My shoes Global Project, Shoe4Africa, www.yesshoesinc.org.

The night before Jesus died, he washed the feet of his disciples, performing a servant’s task. For sure, those feet weren’t very pretty. They were probably rough, dirty, smelly, with broken nails, bunions, and bent toes. Yet he washed them tenderly, bestowing a dignity upon all feet–even our own. Yes, our feet are beautiful–no matter what they look like. They are beautiful because they bear the weight of our entire body. They also bear the wear and tear of our comings and goings as we do good for others. Go barefoot, then–before summer comes to an end! (For us living in the northern hemisphere, summer’s end is coming soon. For those of you living in the southern hemisphere, get ready. Your barefoot season is coming soon!) Thank God for your feet today and for the privilege of walking on earth, this holy ground!

What do you think about going barefoot? Has it ever been a spiritual practice for you?

barefeet in flowers

Thank you for your prayers for the retreat in Biddeford, Maine last week. About fifty women (both lay women and sisters) participated in the silent retreat at the Marie Joseph Retreat Center. It’s a lovely setting for a retreat with the ocean right in the backyard!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

dion August 26, 2013 at 5:10 am

Melannie,
The caption on my e-mail next to Sunflower Seeds said, “The Spiritual Practice of Going Bare.” WOW – I had to read this right away!

Take care…welcome home.

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Melannie Svoboda SND August 26, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Dear Dion, My goodness!With that “tag” I bet I’ll get more readers than usual this week….Thanks! It’s always good hearing from you! Melannie

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Kathleen Magiera August 26, 2013 at 5:23 am

Sr. Melannie,

Going barefoot when I was younger was one of my favorite practices in summer. It helped me feel free of the confinement of my shoes. Not so easy to do these days as I get older.

Going barefoot during my yoga class helps me feel grounded and connected to the earth and to God. There is an energy that can be pulled up through our feet into the rest of our bodies.

Great reflection!

Kathleen

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Melannie Svoboda SND August 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Dear Kathleen, Thank you for telling us about the energy you feel when doing your yoga with bare feet. That’s amazing! Melannie

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Kathy Hassink August 26, 2013 at 9:23 am

Cousin Melanie –
Like you, I used to love running through the grass barefoot as a child. Unfortunately that sometimes resulted in a bee sting since dad used to keep hives to help pollinate his fruit trees and garden. Lots of clover in our orchard and I can remember hopping to the house on one foot crying “Bee, bee, I got stung by a bee!” Mom would take me on her lap, remove the stinger, dab the site with vinegar on a cotton ball and wipe my tears. Just another example of motherly love. Ah, I miss her…

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Melannie Svoboda SND August 26, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Dear Cousin Kathy, Your description brought back beautiful memories for me. I remember your Dad’s fruit trees and large garden. And I can just see your dear mother wiping away your tears. I bet you did the same thing for your own three kids when they were young. Your Mom and Dad (my Aunt Helen and Uncle Marty) were a treasure. We both won the lottery when it came to the parents we got! Love, Melannie (Dolly to you!)

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Sister Miriam August 26, 2013 at 10:00 am

Dear Sr. Melannie,
My whole family would go barefooted growing up. Now I’m a Sister and wear a full habit, to the ground, and I love every opportunity to take off my shoes. Recently taking some spiritual time and I removed my nylons and shoes and felt “totally free” to worship God in His beautiful creation outdoors. I recommend people try it, although I can’t convince the sisters in my community to take their shoes off.

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Melannie Svoboda SND August 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Dear Miriam, I can just picture you “totally free” in your bare feet worshiping God outdoors! Good for you! Your sisters don’t know what they’re missing! Thanks for writing! Melannie

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Barbara August 26, 2013 at 10:39 am

Dear Sr. Melannie.
I love your blog and it usually impacts my thought processes in new ways. However, I thought I’d let you know that going barefoot is not a possibility for people with diabetes. I have been diabetic for more than 50 years and have had the dangers of going barefoot drilled into me. The smallest cut on a foot can result in infection and ultimately lead to amputation. Diabetes slows down the healing process. Despite always wearing shoes or slippers, I developed infections in both feet in late 2012 (both of which have cleared up ), but the wounds have not healed and I am receiving ongoing home care ( 3 times weekly), as well as seeing a wound care nurse and occasionally an infectious diseases specialist. Going barefoot would be a dangerous spiritual practise for anyone with diabetes.

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Melannie Svoboda SND August 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Dear Barbara, Thank you for reminding us that not everyone can enjoy the luxury of going barefoot. As with any physical condition, diabetes has its crosses. But I bet you can at least enjoy soaking your feet in warm or cool water at times. I know when I’ve been on my feet a lot, such a soaking feels so good! Thanks for writing, Barbara! Melannie

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Jo Lindberg August 26, 2013 at 11:13 am

I loved going barefoot all 85 years of my life. Now it is mostly confined to indoors but I often kick off my shoes as soon as I get home. And if not going anywhere can spend all day without shoes. Been thinking of the wonder of our body and bless my feet that take me on a daily early morning walk, get to me Holy Angels where I can sing in the choir, make it possible to visit family and friends. God is good. All the time.

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Melannie Svoboda SND August 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Dear Jo, How wonderful that at age 85 you can still enjoy going barefoot–and you can still sing your praise to our Good God! Thanks for sharing! Melannie

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Larry Cummins August 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm

When I return home each day, I can’t wait to get my shoes off, but the best is running or now walking barefoot through the lush grass of my home. How great it feels and how refreshing it is to immerse a part of me in the holiness of God’s creation. And surely, there isn’t a better place along the coast of Maine to sample the sandy shore than in Biddeford at Marie Joseph House.

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Melannie Svoboda SND August 26, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Dear Larry, I agree with you about the pleasure of walking barefoot in “the lush grass.” And yes, while I was in Biddeford, I did walk barefoot along the shore. I loved the feel of the cold water washing over my feet. Some people were swimming, but I ventured in no deeper than my ankles! The Maine coast is lovely!…Thanks for writing! Melannie

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SHIRL August 30, 2013 at 1:20 pm

HI
Guess what I am writing this in my barefeet, I am barefoot most of the time winter or summer it’s the first thing I do when I come home. I am German but my mom always said there was some Indian in our background so maybe that’s where it comes from. Like you said it makes you feel free and close to nature.

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Melannie Svoboda SND August 30, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Dear Shirl, Glad to know there’s someone else who goes barefoot a lot. I’m typing this in my bare feet too. It’s a hot summer afternoon. I kicked off my sandals after lunch. Thanks for your response! Melannie

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Amy August 31, 2013 at 9:29 am

Dear Sr. Melanie, thank you for starting this blog, for writing, for posting, for becoming a sister, for heeding the call and movements of our triune God’s Holy Spirit in your life. Thanks for this barefoot post — I write at Love and Be Loved and posted a couplet in April about my young family’s most recent tradition: Holy Thursday we washed each other’s feet. It was wonderful! I’m growing in my spirituality daily, and would be honored to have you stop by my blog and read your thoughts/reflections on my pieces. Surely you are busy, but if you are so inclined: amysecristblogsforgod.wordpress.com. May you be blessed for your kindness!

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Melannie Svoboda SND August 31, 2013 at 9:32 am

Thank you, Amy! I will visit your blog. Thank you for writing! Sr. Melannie

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Diana Marie Winkler February 20, 2014 at 9:23 pm

I am someone who loves to go barefoot. As soon as I enter my home, off comes the shoes! If I visit other homes, off comes the shoes. Summertime, by the end of the day the soles of my feet are pretty dirty! The funny part of this is that I have a closet full of shoes and flip flops! I wear those only out of necessity.If I am in a restaurant where I have to wear shoes you may find my feet on top of them and not in them!I have run across a hot blacktop parking lot barefoot and even on a snow covered one as well! I don’t know why I prefer to go barefoot as it only causes more work on making them ” pretty”. I’m sure it has something to do with my free-spirited youth of a few years back, okay, more than a few years! Enjoyed the article. God Bless.

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