Take Off Your Shoes

By Ursuline Associate Bonnie Chester

A couple of days ago, this question was posed by someone on social media: “When you get to Heaven, whom would you search for first?” Believe it or not, who came to my mind was Moses. You might think that was a strange answer compared to whom you would seek out. I credit Moses with getting the show on the road, so to speak, by successfully leading the Israelites out of bondage, then listening to God and agreeing to God’s proposed covenant. “Okay, Moses. Explain to me the burning bush. Why did you have to take off your shoes?” I would ask.

We read in Exodus: “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law… Leading the flock beyond the wilderness, he came to the mountain of God, Horeb. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush. Moses looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” God calls to him, “Moses! Moses!” Moses replies, “Here I am.” God then answers, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exod. 3:1-5)

I think Moses immediately, in wonder and amazement, realized he was in God’s presence. Has that happened to you—standing on a beach, watching the sun slip beyond the horizon, or staring into the Grand Canyon? Perhaps it doesn’t require you to be awestruck—maybe you feel His presence in countless ordinary ways, like it does for me when I settle into my prayer chair each morning.

But sometimes God does something extraordinary, and interacts with us in a more remarkable way. “Is that how it was with you, Moses, and why did God ask you to take off your shoes?” I think God was asking for reverence, for Moses’ humility and his respect. In ancient religions, shoes were taken off and communicants were to be barefooted when offering oblations or when worshiping their gods. Asians often take off their shoes when entering someone’s home as a sign of respect. This ground was holy because of the presence of God. God’s own presence is what makes any place holy. Surely, with his bare feet touching the ground where God stood, Moses felt the divine, like we do in our customary place of worship, be it a church, temple or a space in our home. Would my fellow church goers look at me oddly if I entered the sanctuary without shoes?

When God pierces your heart and you are convinced of His presence, you realize you are on holy ground, and you are filled with a sense of God’s love. But you don’t have to witness something dramatic to feel that love.

“Don’t come to prayer looking for extraordinary experiences. Come to visit your great friend Jesus, always present and waiting for you in the tabernacle. This is the friendship that strengthens us to fulfill our day-to-day ordinary duties with extraordinary love and devotion.”
(Excerpt from Do Something Beautiful for God: The Essential Teachings of Mother Teresa)

He continues to work in us every day, even when we don’t feel like doing anything dramatic, like taking off our shoes. It doesn’t hurt to ask Him to make His presence felt to you. I often take a little quiet time to ask Him to be present. “Break into my ordinary life, Lord. I am open to your love and direction in this difficult time.” Then I can feel a sense of awe filling me with love for Him and leading me in the right direction.

The beautiful hymn, Holy Ground, written by Christopher Beatty and sung by John Michael Talbot, says it best:

This is holy ground
We’re standing on holy ground
For the Lord is present
And where He is holy.

“Lord, God, help me to keep my heart open in case you want to surprise me today. I promise to keep my shoelaces loose. Amen.”