Holy Ground

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The third chapter of the book of Exodus is a story of a story. In the story we have the characters Moses and God. God gives Moses the instruction to remove his sandals before the introduction is made. Once God reminds Moses of his identity and place in the family story, he tells Moses of the plight of the people of Israel in Egyptian slavery and of the divine plan for their freedom. God reveals the divine name and gives Moses the information he needs to make a change in his life and become the leader of God’s people.

First, however, Moses has to take off his shoes.

I have heard it said that the instruction to remove his shoes was to get Moses’ attention, as if a burning bush wasn’t enough. Moses takes off his shoes as a sign that he is ready to hear God’s story. You might want to take off your shoes, because I’ve got a story to tell.

I grew up in a household where we wore our shoes inside. We had rugs by every door. We were taught to wipe our feet. We wore overshoes in the winter that were removed at the door. And we wore shoes inside our home. For the most part that practice has continued in our home. However, we have good friends who have the practice of removing their shoes when they come inside their house. The practice is very simple and as a pastor, I learned to observe the entryway and the footwear of my host when I visited families. I removed my shoes when visiting a house where that was the custom and left them on when visiting a house where leaving them on was the usual practice.

In the fall of 2006, we spent some time studying at the Sandy-Saulteau Spiritual Center near Winnipeg, Manitoba. The cross-cultural educational institution uses traditional indigenous teaching and learning methods. In the late fall there was snow on the ground and we walked on snowy paths between buildings. It was the custom in that place to have two sets of shoes - one to wear outside and a different pair to wear inside. Many of the people who were regular visitors to the center had soft moccasins for wearing inside. I hadn’t brought a spare pare of shoes for inside wear and often went with my stocking feet when indoors. After our time at the center we visited a store in Winnipeg before boarding our flight home. I purchased a pair of moccasins. They didn’t get much use for many years, sitting in my closet and occasionally being worn as bedroom slippers.

I thought of our time at the Sandy-Saulteau Center when, in 2018, we visited Japan, where it is common practice to remove shoes when entering a home. Hotels provide disposable sandals to wear upon entering the room. We removed our shoes before visiting temples and shrines. I developed a new appreciation for the practice of removing one’s shoes when entering a home.

Then, this fall, we moved from our home in South Dakota to a rental home in Washington. Our rental has relatively new flooring on the main level and we are trying to protect the floors and be gentle on the house where we will live for just one year. Our grandchildren, who have always lived in a home where shoes are removed at the entryway are used to taking off their shoes and we have adopted their practice. We didn’t talk about making this change, it has just become our habit to remove our shoes as we come through the door. Those moccasins I bought in Canada are getting good use this winter. I wear them when I am inside.

When our grandchildren come to visit, the front hall closet and the rug that sits by the front door are cluttered with a jumble of shoes and boots. Our grandchildren wear muck boots most of the time. they are waterproof for walking around their farm and they slip on and off easily. They are so practical that I’ve adopted a new practice of trading my regular shoes for a pair of muck boots when I am out at the farm. I’ll switch shoes at the pickup, wear my boots for working in the shop and around the farm, and then slip out of my boots when entering their house. They have a mudroom at the back door It seems that I’m changing my shoes a lot these days.

We are also sharing a lot of stories now that we are able to spend more time with our grandchildren. There is something about that pile of shoes and boots in the entryway of our house within easy sight of the jumble of kids and books in front of the fireplace that makes me think of Moses’ long ago conversation with God. “Take off your shoes, I’ve got a story to tell you.”

We’ve been telling our grandchildren stories of Japan and stories of our indigenous friends in the United States and Canada. Our stories are becoming the stories of a new generation. God began his story for Moses by asking him to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Then God reminded Moses of the generations of his ancestors: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Indeed we are on holy ground when we tell our stories to our grandchildren.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!