THE SPIRITUAL PRACTICE OF GOING BAREFOOT
July 24, 2019
GUEST BLOG POST BY AUTHOR CHRISTINE SINE
Did you know that walking barefoot benefits not only our balance and body alignment? It also increases muscle strength, and most surprising of all it helps our brains develop.
“The feet are the most nerve-rich parts of the human body, which means they contribute to the building of neurological pathways in the brain. Covering them in shoes, therefore, means we’re eliminating all kinds of opportunities for children’s brains to grow new neural connections.” Read the entire article
Then there is mud play.
“It’s not just playing, it’s risk taking, it’s problem solving, it’s hypothesising and if you stand back and … observe, you can see so much learning going on.” (Read the entire article)
I was amazed at the responses that my posting these two articles on Facebook elicited.
Many of us remember with nostalgia a childhood spent barefoot, running through the grass and the agony of having to confine our feet to tight fitting shoes at the end of summer. We remember too the toughening up period that was our initiation into a new summer experience and the joy of finding our feet impervious once again to jagged rocks and uneven surfaces. We remember too those carefree days of playing in the mud, unafraid to get our clothes dirty. Running barefoot through the mud, allowing it to ooze between our toes and caress our feet is probably the best memory of all.
Both these practices anchor us in the earth from which we were created and for which we are responsible. Yet now we are afraid to go barefoot, and discourage kids from doing the same. We are afraid that our sensitive little feet will be hurt by a jagged stone. Or maybe we will tread on a sticker (bindi eye in Australia) or a piece of glass. Or we could pick up a germ lurking in the bare earth. We are willing to give up delight to avoid the transitory pain of toughening up. In the process I think we lose so much of the joy and carefreeness that a barefoot life gives us. Ironically as the article above points out we are much more likely to get hurt or become ill through what we touch with our hands and most of us would never think of wearing gloves all our lives because of this.
Are We Afraid to Go Barefoot Through Life?
As I thought about this today I couldn’t help but compare the experience of walking barefoot in the grass and the mud to our lives. We have allowed our fears and our worries to cover up our spiritual feet – those sensitive parts of our body that help us find balance and alignment, that strengthen our spiritual muscles and develop our brains.
One of our scriptures for Sunday included the story of Jesus sending out the 72 disciplest ahead of him into every town and place he intended to go to and he tells them:
“I am sending you out armed with vulnerability, like lambs walking into a pack of wolves. Don’t bring a wallet. Don’t carry a backpack. I don’t even want you to wear sandals. Walk along barefoot, quietly, without stopping for small talk.” (Luke 10:3,4 The Voice).
Wow! BAREFOOT! ARMED WITH VULNERABILITY!
Walking more in the way that children walk not weighed down by the prejudices and misconceptions that bind us.
I wonder was Jesus trying to toughen up his disciples here, helping them find their balance and make them less sensitive to slights and hurts and jagged rocks underfoot. Was he trying to strengthen their muscles and develop new neurological pathways that would grow their brains and help them understand the new perspectives he was teaching them?
Then I wonder: Have we lost some of our spiritual strength and balance because we are afraid to go barefoot, armed only with vulnerability? Are we more prone to the spiritual equivalent of germs and jagged rocks and prickles as a result? Are we hypersensitive not so much to the toxic pain of what is wrong with our society but to the bumps and lumps that toughen us up to enjoy what is good and healthy spiritual living?
I wish I had thought of writing about the benefits of walking barefoot and the delight of this childhood joy before I wrote The Gift of Wonder. There is a carefreeness to barefoot living that we seem to have lost just as we have lost so many other aspects of childhood.
Introduce A Little Barefoot Living
Here is some advice about barefoot living that I think is helpful as we consider how to apply it to our spiritual lives: (adapted from this article)
- Start slow. You need to be patient and start with short 15- to 20-minute sessions of walking barefoot this allows your feet and ankles to adapt. The spiritual toughening up process needs to be eased into too as any child starting their summer vacation cold tell you. “for the joy that is set before you take time to endure the pain” It is well worth it!
- Ease up if you feel any new pain or discomfort. Because our muscles have lost their strength we are at increased risk of injury. “Without appropriate strength in the foot, you are at risk of having poor mechanics of walking, thereby increasing your risk for injury.” I think that many of us have lost the mechanics of good spiritual walking too because we have not strengthened our muscles. Maybe some of the fallout we see in our churches is because we have not taught followers of Jesus to strengthen their muscles so they can walk well without injury.
- Practice on safe surfaces. “Once you’ve mastered the indoors, try walking on outside surfaces that are less dangerous, such as turf, rubber tracks, sandy beaches, and grass.” Once we have mastered barefoot living inside at home we could try it out in places we feel spiritually safe like discipleship groups before we take it outside into the neighbourhood.
- Experiment with balance exercises. “Start with simple balance exercises like standing on one foot or pressing yourself up onto your toes and lowering down slowly.” To me this speaks of the need to balance contemplation and action. Learning to rest the moment without stress and anxiety then committing ourselves to active involvement in God’s world is a good way to practice this.
- Try an activity that requires you to be barefoot. “Take advantage of activities that are already performed barefoot, like yoga, Pilates, or martial arts”. Now that one is easy for me – exercise the muscles of joy and delight that God has given you. Go for a barefoot awe and wonder walk, swim in the waves or play in a mud puddle. The delight of these types of practices strengthens us for a life of joy and delight in which the pressures of jagged rocks don’t bother us.
- Examine your feet for injury.”Every day examine the bottom of your feet for injury.” A good exercise to end your day with during this “toughening up period of barefoot living” is to ask yourself “What has caused me discomfort” before you go to bed. Identifying the sensitivities that cause pain allows God to bring healing to these areas so that you are really able to walk barefoot and carefree.
So get out there and enjoy a bit of barefoot living this week!
Guest blog post re-printed by permission of author Christine Sine. Contemplative activist, passionate gardener, author, and liturgist, Christine loves messing with spiritual traditions and inspiring followers of Jesus to develop creative approaches to spirituality that intertwine the sacred through all of life. She is the founder and facilitator for the popular contemplative blog godspacelight.com. Her most recent book is The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God. (IVP 2019)
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