This week I found myself thinking about shoes a lot. The snow has started to fall in Winnipeg (finally), and several students came to school with no runners for gym. Off they trudged to the office, more than once, to borrow extra pairs. I myself made a trip to the basement to dig out my winter boots, leaving my daytime shoes at work.
I wear practical black shoes, not as fashionable as some might wear, but they can double as runners if I decide to give my students an extra gym class or plop on the floor to help someone with their work. As practical as they are, they won’t do for my nephew’s wedding next weekend, nor will the boots! A trip to the shoe store may be in my future, or at least a rummage through my closet to see what is hiding in there.
My favorite shoes are my runners, and I was wearing them on the treadmill this week at the Y, listening to a podcast. I heard a great quotation, which stayed with me. “We walk in shoes that are too small,” Carl Jung once said.
I think what Jung meant was that many of us (myself included) think that we are flawed, born sinful and incompetent. When we think that’s all there is to the picture, we forget that we are also blessed and noble creatures, born to love others as God loves us. Just as tight, uncomfortable shoes can keep us from walking or running very far or very often, tight, uncomfortable thoughts can make us into unhealthy people with too-narrow boundaries on our lives. I’ve often been guilty of wearing shoes that are too small; of forgetting that God’s world is one of freedom and emancipation.
So, to answer the question of this blog, this week I noticed that my shoes felt bigger. Maybe I’ve always had these shoes from God, but I became a bit more aware of them on my feet, making my world a bit bigger.
Richard Rohr (in one of his daily email meditations that I highly recommend) wrote “Why do I have this new desire, this new capacity to love some new people, to love the old people better, maybe to enter into some kind of new love for the world? I even find my thoughts are more immediately loving.” He goes on to say that this new capacity is always from God.
I read this quotation and found myself nodding. “This is what I feel lately,” I thought. I love people. Maybe it’s weird that at age 50, I am still in recovery from a lifetime of less hopeful thoughts, but there it is. It’s not like until now I’ve been without love for people and life, but there was something in me this week that felt new. Like the old boundaries were being pushed away. Like my shoes were bigger.
Many years ago now, I was blessed to have a wise Bible college prof named Henry Krahn. He was famous for beginning each year with a certain story. He talked about an eagle who was born in a chicken barn and grew up thinking it was a lowly chicken, pecking away at the grain and never knowing the huge, expansive sky above him. “Don’t be chickens when you are really eagles,” he would tell us with piercing eyes that saw to our hearts. “Spread your wings and be who you are created to be.”
I thought of his story this week as an awareness stayed with me of how expansive life is. One expansive place is the kids at school. I certainly don’t do it perfectly, but there is joy in being an encouraging guide to these little people who are still so open to life. It’s a crazy and busy life being a teacher, but it is a huge privilege to be with them. Many are affected by poverty and issues I’ve never had to deal with, but they are my teachers every day.
I have to admit, however, that by week’s end, old habits of burn-out crept up again, and this sense of awareness left me. But I kept remembering the bigger shoes. Was what I saw true? What would it mean to keep living in God’s expansive world, pushing forward in hope? On Friday night, as my husband can attest, I certainly didn’t feel hopeful. Life felt scattered and too-small again as the day’s challenges just felt like too much.
Writing this blog has become a spiritual practice that helps me immeasurably each week to stay focused on faith. More than anything else in life, I desire to keep my lens focused on God and the universe of God’s love. Like the galaxies around our tiny earth, it is much, much bigger than we imagine. A continual proof of God’s love is that even when I forget, God never does. God is ever merciful, renewing me when I’m spent, reminding me to put on the bigger shoes.
Jesus showed us what to ask for when we pray. “Thy Kingdom come.” Thy Kingdom come dear God, even when our shoes are pinching and we’ve forgotten.
Here is a prayer for American Thanksgiving. Henry Krahn would have loved it.
Thanksgiving Day Prayer
by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918)
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.