Taking Off My Shoes

barefoot on beach - photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash
“Nor can foot feel, being shod”

This line from Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “God’s Grandeur” is a commentary on what the poet saw as one of many pitfalls of the burgeoning industrial revolution, which, in his imagination, divorced people from knowledge of the natural world in which they lived. People are “shod”—shoe-wearing, meaning that they can no longer feel the earth beneath their feet.

For decades I’ve held this line as a metaphor—until now, when, as a consequence of spending a much-needed vacation in a beach area, I had the experience of literally un-shoeing myself for an extended period. I walked around barefoot much more.

It hurt a lot. Because I always wear shoes, my feet were woefully unprepared for the kind of toll the ground was taking on them. I got cuts and hobbled around like I was almost unable to walk at all. I had to apply salve to my feet every night.

But over time, my feet adapted to the new environment. They became adjusted to the rigors of walking over the ground. They breathed. They toughened up.

Now, having returned home, it is strange to put on the shoes I’ve worn all my life. They feel constricting. They allow me to quicken my pace and do more, but in the process, I’ve lost a feeling of slowing down and becoming aware of the world around me and its many rich sensations.

Ironically, the street where I live has just been re-paved after years of disrepair. I can walk or ride my bike on it easily; my kids can ride scooters and zip up and down it with ease. I’m struck at the contrast: it is what Hopkins warns us about. “The soil/ Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.” Life in this technological world offers us many conveniences and even pleasures, but what it distracts us from is the “dearest freshness deep down things,” where observation, reflection, and contemplation flow easily. I must find new ways to reconnect to the world I live in. I must take time to reflect and contemplate. I must slow down, take my shoes off, and encounter the living God.

Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash.

About Tim Muldoon 115 Articles
Tim Muldoon, Ph.D., is the author of a number of books, including The Ignatian Workout, Longing to Love, and Living Against the Grain, as well as many essays. He is the Director of Mission Education at Catholic Extension Society.

10 Comments on Taking Off My Shoes

  1. I was always in a rush to go anywhere. I set a quick pace to everywhere. As I got older, I did not slow down even when my adult daughters were unable to keep up. The last three years arthritic knees remind me of the humble steps I now take. I loved my barefoot beach walks the feel and sound of the sand as I stepped but now my toes are encased in ankle hugging sneakers. Thank you for the memories and reminder of slowing up for God’s wonderful creation in grains of sand.

  2. Bare feet walk on grass or gravel or street – provides easy earthing. Out here in our part of the world when entering a place of worship we remove and keep our footwear behind. At the Sikh Golden temple in the holy city of Amritsar, the devotees and visitors leave their footwear behind, walk through the warm water rivulet on their way to the sanctum sanctorum – chanting: “Bole so Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”.

  3. I ve always felt so close to God with out my shoes while working in yard and digging in dirt to weed or plant new seeds , bulbs or flowers. Everything is for my day and night conversations with God
    So rewarding to see my children pass it on to their children
    Any chore at church whether Altar guild, yard work and cleaning gave us such joy !!

  4. Yes Tim, thank you. Your reflection makes me think I need to take off my shoes and remember that I am always standing on Holy Ground!

  5. Tim,thank you for such a profound nudging into “encountering the living God.”

    I used to live in the islands and as a child used to ask permission to “take off my slippers” just to feel the earth. Then moved to Santa Barbara USA where the beach offered, taught, formed a way of taking my shoes off —suddenly, the gift: beach or desert* I discovered all ground is sacred!

    *(moved to AZ awhile in ministry)

  6. I can relate to being shoeless. For years I have not wore shoes much at all living on the water helps. A story, I was dating a woman and was out at her house in the country and we had a small disagreement. So I decided to go back to my boat. So I walk the 5 miles back barefoot.It was a very enjoyable walk. But after that see referred to me as her bohemian lover!

  7. So well done, Tim. Many thanks. Am “slowly” taking my time reading, reflecting, and hopefully acting on your book, LIVING AGAINST THE GRAIN. You are a gift to me. Thanks again.

  8. Tim, thank you for your reminder to free ourselves to wander with unshod feet.

    God touches each of us each day in a myriad of ways,
    with the glowing fingers of morning dawn,
    the dusk of evening fall and the first light of stars,
    the glory of spring bright in a riot of colors and smells,
    the stark blue of summer sky with opal clouds aloft,
    coolness of fall breezes and earth draped in reds, yellows and tans,
    winter patterns of frost painted glass with earth sleeping under blankets of snow.
    Am I open to barefoot wonder or armored in concrete feet?

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