If eyes are the windows to the soul, I think feet may be the doorway to all understanding. That revelation came to me recently when I was in the front pew of my parish church in upstate New York. I was kneeling after Communion and didn’t want to look toward the altar as I prayed because doing so would have felt intrusive to those receiving Communion just a few feet away. So, I looked down at the floor in front of me.
After a few minutes, I began to realize that this view was perhaps even more prayerful than any other because watching people’s feet—more specifically, their shoes—as they shuffled or walked by told me a story, a love story, about people connected to each other across years and challenges, fashion taste and physical necessity, all there for the same reason, all hungry for the same thing.
Clicking high heels went by, so narrow and pointed I wondered how the woman could walk but knew without lifting my head that the rest of her outfit and demeanor would be just as stylish and “together.” Then came the rhythmic smacking sound of flip flops on young feet, the soundless stride of wingtips on an older gentleman, sneakers of every kind, orthopedic shoes, glittery shoes fit for only a very tiny princess, shoes with lights that bounced along just behind the sensible shoes of a mom used to running after toddlers, then two sets of shoes moving slowly, side-by-side—one of the few that made me lift my head to catch the sweetest scene of an older man helping his wife back down the aisle. I couldn’t help but imagine them doing the same on their wedding day many years before.
With each passing set of shoes, I felt love and understanding deepening over the seemingly superficial but obvious reminders of our shared human condition, and how fragile and fast-moving this life is. How quickly we go from skipping along next to a parent in carefree, bright orange sandals to shuffling along slowly in protective shoes with the aid of a cane and a spouse, if we’re lucky. It was a beautiful parade of commitment and determination, joined together in our spiritual home, receiving our Lord in the Eucharist, together as the family that we are, unrelated by blood in most instances but bound to each other by the waters of our baptism and the indelible words written on our souls, “I have called you by name; you are mine…” (Is 43:1)
Too often we see our differences first, the things that separate us, whether it’s a political view or our choice of church attire, but the truth is that we are united at our core, on a soul level, to the One who loves, heals, forgives and draws us to himself for all eternity. We belong to each other, but it’s easy for that truth to get lost in the din of a world set on convincing us that anything different from who we are and what we believe is deficient, maybe even dangerous.
“We are obliged to love one another…If we wait for some people to become agreeable or attractive before we begin to love them, we will never begin,” writes Thomas Merton in “No Man Is an Island.” “…love implies an efficacious will not only to do good to others exteriorly but also to find some good in them to which we can respond.”
The classic idiom maintains that before we judge someone we must walk a mile in his or her shoes. I would suggest, however, that we don’t have to go that far; we simply need to watch the feet filing by us at Mass to know that, whether in heels or flats, sneakers or flip flops, we are all on the same path to the same God who does not care what’s on our feet but what’s in our heart.