Solve calceamentum de pedibus tuis: locus enim, in quo stas, terra sancta est.
We all know about Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3), and how God commanded him to take off his shoes since the place of divine revelation was holy ground. Last Good Friday, I took off my sandals (which I wear throughout the year outside the coldest months) for the veneration of the Cross. I ignored the rubric where it says that the priest puts his shoes back on, and continued up to the end of the ceremony in bare feet. It was quite a discovery, since I had fewer distractions than I often have during Mass and Office.
I also remember a visit to a Coptic church in England some years ago, where the priest asked me to take my shoes off, exactly as Muslims do when they enter their mosque. Walking around with bare feet is another experience of a place, an intimate communion with the ground and the place. I hadn’t really thought much about this widespread gesture of reverence and prayer until I discovered Shoes off at the Door, Please.
Most organists change their shoes for accurate playing on the instrument’s pedalboard. I prefer to play barefooted, not even with socks. It makes sense in a house or on a boat to remove shoes, perhaps staying in socks or wearing slippers if it is cold. Shoes damage floors and carpets. When I was at prep school, there was a rule that we wore sandals indoors and our shoes or boots only outdoors. To this day, both my wife and I take care to clean our shoes on entering the house or take them off. In the same way as I play the organ barefooted, I sail my boat – only boarding the vessel wearing my rubber slippers to protect my feet on the shingle beach. There is a sense of “communion” or connectedness with the boat and its element, the sea.
I am tempted to adopt a regular practice of saying Mass barefooted, at least in my own chapel. For most of the Mass, I stand on a wooden footpace, which is designed not to give the priest height, but to protect him from the cold and damp floor in the church.
It’s a bit difficult to insist that others do the same except for that brief moment of Good Friday. Perhaps the way is by example. Taking shoes off is also a form of relaxation, especially for those arriving at home from a day’s work. There is something deeply psychological, but also linked with cultures that insist on it. As I write this article, I am barefooted and relaxed. It perhaps goes with “letting your hair down”. My own hair is getting longer, but is still not long enough to tie up – that experience awaits me. Hair is tied up to be social and respectful of others, and is let down to relax at home. Strange, a reflection on two extremities, the head and the feet!
These things are so simple and familiar to us all, so much so that we take them for granted. Bare feet, or at least the use of sandals (except when it really gets cold) is not only more comfortable. It is also healthier. My feet don’t sweat and are never smelly, and my psoriasis from which I have suffered for some years has improved considerably, especially on regular contact with seawater.
Perhaps you should try it. Let us know how you get on.