One day this week, I decided on a whim that I needed to get outside and walk a bit. I started out on the sidewalk, but I turned a corner where the sidewalk ended and suddenly I was walking on dirt. It was then that I realized that I hadn’t thought this through, and I didn’t have on the right shoes, so I turned back.
Choosing the right shoes may not seem like a big deal, but it is the one thing that challenges me the most when packing to go on a trip. (I have do some soul searching.)
- Will I need shoes for hiking? Or for city walking?
- Will I need shoes for dressing up?
- Will I need boots for rainy weather? Or sandals for hot weather?
I flip flop about which to take because there’s not enough room in the suitcase to take them all, but I want to be prepared as much as possible for whatever might happen.
What kind of shoes do we choose for encounters with God?
- Moses was wearing his working shoes for herding sheep in the wilderness. I hope they were easy to take off, because that’s what the voice in the burning bush told him to do.
- Isaiah might have already taken his shoes off when he had his vision of God in the temple. It is the tradition in many cultures to remove shoes upon entering a home or place of worship.
So maybe the best shoes for meeting God are the kind that slip off easily.
Taking off one’s shoes is a gesture of respect. Doing this also accomplishes something else – it helps us to be fully present in the moment as we feel the ground beneath our feet.
What are you feeling in your feet right now?
Being fully present in the moment is an important part of experiencing God’s presence. Saying to God, “I am here.” Both Moses and Isaiah signal their presence in their encounter with God by saying, “I am here.” The prophet Samuel also says this in his first encounter with God. “I’m here, God, I’m listening.”
Priya Parker, author of the book The Art of Gathering, tells about a get-together she has with her friends that they call “I Am Here” day. It started out as a way to get to know New York City when she and her husband first moved there, but it grew into a regular tradition. Their first “I Am Here” day happened spontaneously. They went with some friends to visit a church, and then to lunch afterwards where they talked about their experience so far. They set out from there to explore more of the neighborhood, and ended up visiting the house of a friend who lived nearby, and then a museum. As they walked on, they heard music and discovered an underground dance party, so they went in and danced for awhile. Afterwards they went to a nearby park to cool off, where they realized that they were quite relaxed and energized. Guess what? They were amazed to discover that they hadn’t looked at their phones all day.
They’d had such a great time that they decided to keep having “I Am Here” days, each time choosing a different part of the city to explore, always on foot. As they invited new people to join them, they realized they needed to be explicit about the expectations that had become part of their norms. So the invitation to an “I Am Here” day said, “If you’re going to join us,
- be there from start to finish (all 10–12 hours).
- Turn off technology (unless it directly relates to the day).
- Agree to be present and engaged in the group and what’s going on.
- One conversation at meals.
- Be game for anything.
Over time they realized that the two most important rules were to spend the full day together and to use no technology. Priya says that these rules “were powerful because they forced a degree of presence rare in New York and the tech-addled modern world. People had to come on time, stay the entire time—no coming and going. When they knew that was the deal, they became more relaxed. They couldn’t micro-coordinate. They were giving up the option of finding a better option. They were just here. And because we were all here, we enjoyed one another’s company to the fullest.”
Making holy spaces means saying to God “I am here,” seeking to be fully present in whatever is happening in the moment, and enjoying God’s company.
One of the distractions that Priya eliminated with her group’s rules was any wondering about what was expected. She took out the guesswork by being clear up front that they would start on time, be there all day, turn off their phones. This helped them to stay engaged with the group.
Sometimes it’s hard to help new people join in because we’ve gotten so used to the expectations that we don’t think to explain them. What sort of expectations do we have about coming to church? Or joining a particular group? What would it help for people to know?
When we go to the theater, either to see a movie or a live play, the organizers help us out. We are told to turn off our phones, and then the lights go off so that we aren’t distracted by the people around us. All we can see is the movie or the play and so we enjoy the experience more because we are able to be fully engaged in it.
What helps us to be fully present wherever we are seeking God?
- Go to specific places – church sanctuary, a quiet spot at home, a beach or field or mountain
- Say a prayer asking God to help us see and hear whatever God is doing.
- Silence our phones
Whether we go somewhere special to seek God, or are just going on about our day, we can expect God to do the unexpected.
- For Moses, God showed up at his workplace. As he was out herding his sheep, I’m sure Moses wasn’t expecting to see a burning bush, or to hear a voice in the fire.
- Isaiah might have been expecting to see God in the temple, but probably not in the way that he did, with six-winged seraphim singing so loud that they shook the building.
Anyplace we see God is a holy place in that moment.
We need those moments when we see God because this is what fires our faith. Writer Martha Grace Reese in her book Unbinding the Gospel says:
“We each touch the heart of the faith through our individual interactions with God. This relationship is nurtured in community. It is expressed through community. But at its center stands each of us, individually, being given glimpses of God’s face.”
That’s why it’s so important that we be praying.
Whenever I read about churches that are experiencing transformation and renewal, the one thing they are all doing is praying a lot.
For example, Reese tells about four women who decided to form an evangelism committee. They were excited to get started but they didn’t know what to do. They met for lunch with a church consultant and kept asking her what they should do. Instead of giving them specific instructions, the consultant told them to pray. And she asked them to do only that for three months. So that’s what they did. They prayed.
- They met together regularly to pray.
- They prayed individually every day at 7:30 a.m. wherever they were.
They also read books, and they researched on the internet. And by the end of the three months, they knew exactly what to do and they had great energy for doing it. Within a month after that, they had recruited a whole team of people who were praying for and welcoming new people, and following up with them.
A few months later, the consultant came back to see how they were doing. They told her about all the new things they were doing and successes they were having, but they also said they were getting tired. So the consultant asked if they were still praying like they had been at the beginning. “Oops,” they said. “We sorta let that slip.”
Whatever God is going to do in us, in our church, in our community, begins with and is guided by prayer.
It’s not just about having close encounters with God, though. In the encounters Moses and Isaiah had, God gave them a mission.
For Moses, it was to go free the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Moses already had an affinity for this mission.
- Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and brought up in the court, so he had experience talking with rulers.
- Moses was in the wilderness because he had gotten angry at one of Pharaoh’s managers who was mistreating an Israelite slave.
- Moses was herding sheep that belonged to the people in the desert because he had helped a group of women who were being harassed by local shepherds.
Moses was in the habit of standing up for oppressed people, but Moses had given up on that because he was afraid and felt inadequate. And so God made it clear that Moses was the one for the job.
For Isaiah, the mission was to tell the people and the kings of Israel about the ways they had gone off course, and to help them turn back to God, and trust God to help them. In his vision in the temple, God helped Isaiah to know that he was also going to have to keep speaking for God even when nobody would listen.
So it’s not just about having close encounters with God. These encounters have a purpose. Moses and Isaiah were both given a mission to go to specific people.
We all have a mission. God’s purpose is people. And whatever God is going to do in us, in our church, in our community, will begin with and be guided by prayer.
If we don’t know what to do yet, or to whom God is sending us, we need to keep praying, and keep our eyes open for wherever God might show us. And when we do know, we need to keep on praying.
And remember to expect the unexpected.
Writer Annie Dillard said, “When we go to church we should wear crash helmets, receive life preservers and be lashed to the pews in case God shows up.”
Let’s expect God to show up, and we should definitely have on our sensible shoes.
 Parker, Priya. The Art of Gathering (p. 136). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid. (p. 136-137)
 Martha Grace Reese, Unbinding the Gospel- Second Edition, (Pg. 42), Chalice Press, 2008.
 As quoted by Bruce Epperly at https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2010-01/theophany