Monday, December 5, 2011

PILGRIM FEET

The other day, poised to don my socks, I looked, really looked at my feet. They’re not exceptional, one way or the other, but I was suddenly struck by how fond I am of my feet; how beautiful, really, are my feet. They have carried me so far! They are pilgrim feet. They have wandered over prairie, seashore, desert, mountain, city street, back alley, railroad track, and plain. They enable me to walk, drive, kick the door shut, and occasionally run, they ferry me to the bathroom, the kitchen, the grocery store, the library Mass. They’re sturdy and uncomplaining.

I thought about how feet have a quality that makes them especially vulnerable and poignant.And suddenly I wondered what it would feel like to be held down and have an iron spike driven through them. I thought of the psychic horror of not being able to move, of being literally nailed to a piece of wood; of knowing that even if by some miracle you didn’t die that you would never walk again; that your bones and tendons and sinews were being butchered; that your feet, that you loved, were forever wrecked.

I thought about the print of Fra Angelico’s “St. Dominic Adoring the Crucifixion” that I have in my bathroom, across from the toilet. I put on my shoes and walked to Mass and on the way, I thought about how if you love Christ, you walk for him. You walk for all the people who can’t walk: the people in wheelchairs, the old, the sick, the people in solitary confinement, the people in straitjackets, the babies.

ST. DOMINIC WITH THE CRUCIFIX,
FRA ANGELICO, c. 1450
What a beautiful exchange, a kind of full circle, to walk to Mass. All the better if my aging body aches a little; if I’m a little cold, a little tired, a little lonely, a little depressed. He gave up his Body for us; I give up mine to him. I study the shadows on the sidewalk, the trunks of trees, the clouds.  Sometimes when I haven't allowed myself enough time and am hurrying along Sunset Boulevard, I think: He makes my feet swift as those of hinds/He enables me to go upon the heights. I’m going to meet he whom my heart loves. I’m contemplating, I’m conserving fossil fuel, I’m doing the healthiest thing I can do, physically, emotionally, spiritually. All free, all hidden from the eyes of the world, all toward the pearl of great price.

The glory of the Gospels is that if you devote yourself to them, they reveal themselves to you: ever so slowly, and ever more deeply. I used to puzzle over the pearl of great price: why did the man who sold everything to buy it hide it in a field? Why not display it? Now I see it’s because the pearl of great price is invisible to the eyes of the world. You can’t point to it, and even if you could, people still wouldn’t see it. It’s hidden. It’s deep inside you, casting an invisible glow.  You serve a different master than the rest of the world. You hear a different music. You have a different motive.

Sometimes I picture leaving invisible bits of my body and blood behind, little energy trails of calorie-burnt-up heat, on the streets where I walk. For years I wandered alone in an almost unbearably painful dark night of the soul: Where would my love go? How could I give myself completely? Really, of course, you open yourself completely to his love, and when you do…How different the eyes of God are from the eyes of the world! How different the things he values and the things we value; how different the things we strive for and the things that endure.

This morning I woke at dawn and looked up, through the gauze curtains above my bed, to the branches of the pepper tree beyond. When you think about Christ all the time, he is with you while you sleep and he’s with you when you wake. When you walk with Christ, the Gospels come alive and if you walk with him for a long time, you start to become part of them. I gazed unthinkingly at the tree for a minute and then I exclaimed, “I’m like the blind man who saw dimly, Lord!” [Mark 8:22-26]...

7 comments:

  1. Phillip William BrockDecember 5, 2011 at 7:11 AM

    This is beautiful, Heather. What you said about the pearl of great price reminds me of a saying of Soren Kirkegaard -- "Something that's true when it is whispered becomes false when it is shouted."

    Thanks.

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  2. "How beautiful are the feet of those ... who bring the gospel of Peace." Isaiah 52:7.- repeated in Romans10:15. Also a gorgeous song in Handel's "Messiah". This is your mission also Heather.

    Regarding that Pearl of great price: I've thought that must be because the man had had so many fake pearls passed off on him and when he found the one of great price he was going to move heaven and earth to possess it.

    Lovely reflection Heather - thank you.
    Stephen Sparrow

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  3. Do your feet matter to God?

    Well, His love letter to mankind, the Bible, is replete with messages of feet. Several came to mind as I read this Pilgrim Feet.

    I drifted to Moses, in curiosity climbing to a Burning Bush that would not be consumed. There he found someone who knew him personally, and had a message for Pilgrim Feet:
    "Moses, take off your sandals for you are standing on Holy Ground".

    We do more than stand with feet, but it seems a hot topic with our God.

    "STAND FIRM!" is posted dozens of time in the love letter, the Word of God.

    "How happy on the mountain are the feet of him who brings Good News."

    "Therefore, put on the full Armor of God.....stand firm in the Shoes of the Gospel of Peace".
    (I love that one from Ephesians).

    "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations...."
    When Christ said that to the Disciples, "Go" was by feet. Today, we can "Go" from keyboard to globe in nanoseconds.

    The list goes on and on about Pilgrim Feet in the Bible. These are the first to come to my mind, but hardly the best,.... were I to research.

    The most quoted Book in the Old Testament by Christ was Isaiah. The first and only Catholic President, John Kennedy, also used Isaiah in his only Inaugural Address:
    Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah—to "undo the heavy burdens ... and to let the oppressed go free."

    In the Job Section of your classified, you rarely see openings for "Feet Needed". But in the Bible, as in Isaiah above, Pilgrim Feet are needed always.

    Everyone knows the famous "Ask Not" phrase from Kennedy's speech, but I have always loved the line preceding it:
    The energy, the faith, the devotion which WE bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world."

    The cadence and staccato of these words ring my memory still as though they were a burning bush.

    And what was the "endeavor" he spoke of?
    A few sentences prior, he spoke this:
    "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it."

    JFK spoke of Freedom!
    Christ spoke of true, and spiritual Freedom.
    In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of Spreading the Freedom of God to others.

    BOTH need Pilgrim Feet.
    The Job Section in your newspaper does not have any openings for Feet, but the Bible has openings for every Pilgrim to employ their feet......for God!

    Your "feet shadow" in the picture, Heather, made me smile. When you "Go", that shadow is like Christ, walking with you unobstructed. Even at high noon, the shadow simply settles UNDER your feet, only to reappear in moments anew.

    Nailing feet to wood can stop feet for good....for a human.
    But Christ walked all over after the Resurrection.
    And we who believe will walk into Eternity, too!

    The tiny feet in the Manger would be employed coming home to Nazareth as a fugitive still.

    Our own tiny feet will be employed coming home to Heaven, as a fugitive too.
    God bless you abundantly this day, Heather.

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  4. This is so beautiful - I'm crying as I read it. I have always loved walking and the symbolism you write about strikes a deep chord. Thank you - I want to walk as Jesus walked and pray that others might recognise the pearl of great price.
    Just this evening, I was thinking again about walking to Santiago de Compostela with my son, James. This has added another layer to that holy longing!
    Thank you and God bless you Heather. Also, Phillip William Brock, that Kierkegaard quote is so true - thank you.

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  5. All of our feet matter.
    Sometimes, they are even smart feet.

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  6. Thanks so much, all. Phillip, the Kierkegaard quote is genius. I've been reflecting lately on how the Cross can neither be promoted nor "defended." The Cross simply is...

    Just came across this quote in Chesterton's Orthodoxy: "It is customary to complain of the bustle and strenuousness of our epoch. But in truth the chief mark of our epoch is a profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact is that the real laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle. Take one quite external case; the streets are noisy with taxicabs and motorcars; but this is not due to human activity but to human repose. There would be less bustle if there were more activity, if people were simply walking about."

    But I don't want to blow my horn because I'm walking. That I can walk at all is a gift. The real point of walking to Mass is this other Chesterton quote: "A man may lie still and be cured of a malady. But he must not lie still if he wants to be cured from a sin."

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  7. "I put on my shoes and walked to Mass and on the way, I thought about how if you love Christ, you walk for him. You walk for all the people who can’t walk: the people in wheelchairs, the old, the sick, the people in solitary confinement, the people in straitjackets, the babies."

    I picture this, and you, Heather, become a priest. I don't mean to be sacrilegious, but in your beautiful way, your walking and your writing are a priestly act: you bring us to Christ. Thank you.

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