Barbara, Have You Seen Where We Walk? {Book Club}

After my bold assertion last week  if there was any chapter we had down (incarnation) today’s chapter in  An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor leaves me feeling almost the opposite.

At the end of the chapter when she invited the reader to join in the practice of going barefoot part of me was all in and wanted to have all of us post picture of our bare feet walking where we live. But then I started to picture you. My mind went from dusty roads, to cold climates, to orphans too poor for shoes, to prostitutes wearing worn out high heels, to the crunch of leaves underfoot, classrooms where you are either teacher or student, villages and modern cities. Floors with carpet, wood, dirt. Part of me sighed and thought, Barbara what may work is some locations may not work in all.

“The beauty of physical practices like this one is that you do not have to know what you are doing in order to begin.”

OK, Barbara, you got me. This chapter has me thinking about feet, shoes, floors, and walking.

I was born to a shoe wearer and a shoe abhorrer. Shoes were for winter and school, we spent most of our summers barefoot and free. While others kids needed shoes to cross the street, not us, we had toughed the soles of our feet up through use and were able to dance back and forth to the neighbors across the street. You can guess that the foot ware freedom came from our mother.

Our father, on the other hand (foot?), was rarely barefoot. Seeing his feet was akin to seeing a wild animal, unexpected and exciting, ushering in a sudden quiet so as not to scare it off.

We also were floor dwellers. Playing games, coloring, and as the years went by, laying on the floor to do homework. This formed me and informed me, this business with feet and floors.

And then I moved to a culture with very different relationship to both. The floor was dirty and bad. The foot never to touch it. I look back on those early days when I didn’t know this, smile and shake my head at young, naive Amy and the cultural  faux pas she made.

My teammate and I were in need of bikes and some students took us to the used bicycle market to get them, asking us to stay outside and wait for them, knowing our white skin and big noses would raise the price. So we waited. Time went by and we got tired of waiting and sat down on the steps. You can see where this is going, right?

We didn’t know. Culture training in California can only cover so much and we hadn’t talked about waiting outside of a bike market and being bored.

The students came out with bikes and looks for horror on their faces. At this point we knew something was wrong, but it was only later I knew the look meant: It’s true, they really are barbarians. Why else would they sit unprotected on the ground.

A bit of cultural awkwardness arose as two students pushed bikes towards us and others hurried to dig out newspaper from their bags. I can’t remember now if just one or both bikes were taken back in search of others, but as they left we were told to only sit on the newspaper. Emphatically, sternly, in slightly louder, clearer voices. I remember wondering how sitting on newsprint that would wipe off on my pants was worse than dirt.


One of my classroom rules used to be “no spitting.” In an era when so much has changed and 20 years of “Civilization Campaigns,” spitting is no longer talked about in cultural preparation and classroom management in the way it was. It seems quaint and sweet. But it was neither quaint or sweet to me in my classroom. It was necessary and gross. Why, because we had a different view of feet and floors. Different. I want to say mine is “better” and justify it was scripture, but that only points to how entwined these cultural norms can be with biblical ones. Lord spare us from a “Biblical Footwear” movement.

Living cross culturally has aided my awareness of pace and bodies. Feet and foot ware. In the not so distant past it wasn’t unusual to see occasional granny toddling around on feet bound in childhood, even then as relationship with feet, privilege, and sexuality changing.


This week we’re talking about healing — needing healing forces us to walk in shoes we don’t want and often at paces we wished moved faster. Do I hear an Amen? (Just heard from a friend whose daughter had an ear ache and it too all day at the local hospital to get medicine. All day with a sick toddler.)


These days our feet know the custom lines and waiting to board planes. I wonder how walking more would help our souls stay in our bodies. I love the convenience, air travel brings, yet can see the ways it confuses my soul to move so quickly from one land to another. Jet lag disoreints more than my sleep.

There is much to unpack from Walking on the Earth and I look forward to the comments. What stood out to you? How are feet and floors and walking viewed where you live? How did your childhood form and inform you? Passages that stood out to you? Thoughts that were stirred? It’s all fair game!

Amy's feet


P.S. Next week we’ll looking at the practice of Getting Lost.

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Photo Credit : Gratisography


  1. Elizabeth November 4, 2014

    A lot of things to chew on in this chapter. Some of the things I noticed were:

    “Most of us spend so much time thinking about where we have been or where we are supposed to be going that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are. When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives, the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say, ‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am.'” This hurt a little bit, because I realized that sometimes I treat my children’s ages and stages this way. That instead of enjoying them just for who they are in THIS moment, I look ahead to the future and everything that needs to be done to get there. It’s hard to just relax with them, but I find when I do, I enjoy them so much! Even the practice of read alouds, which we used to do so much more, before phonics and spelling and grammar lessons took over, slow us down and bonds us. Today, actually, I chose to read aloud to them instead of push ahead to the next lesson, just for fun. I remembered yet again (for I am constantly relearning this lesson) how valuable that is for all of us. Just relax and read and book together instead of worrying about how to prepare them for college-level English classes. Seriously!

    “The labyrinth may be a set path, but it does not offer a set experience.” And a little further on, she says the only promise spiritual practices make “is to teach those who engage in them what those practitioners need to know — about being human, about being human with other people, about being human in creation, about being human before God.” That whole section, which I won’t retype here, I am experiencing in real life right now. I started using Shane Claiborne’s Common Prayer book for my devotionals, which incorporates nearly all the denominational traditions, and fits an abbreviated Bible reading plan into 1 year instead of the 3 years the actual Book of Common Prayer takes. Anyway, as I have gotten a teeny tiny bit more into liturgy (I do not come from a liturgical church background), I have found Barbara’s statements to be true. It is a set reading/praying/singing plan, but it will not create a set experience for all people! The Scripture meets us where we need to be met, and every day I’m amazed that the ancient words meet me right where I am. This is such a beautiful mystery.

    I also loved the section that began, “Jesus walked a lot,” because it really shed light on His ministry. Not just what He did, but how he did it. “If he had been moving more quickly — even to reach more people — these things might have become a blur to Him.” Wow. I have heard it said that as leaders age, their tendency is to try to reach more and more people, but it ends up being a shallow reach, which is different from the example of Christ, who kept a small group disciples and went really deep with them. A reminder that what is important are the individual lives we touch, not the number. She also said, “For many who followed Him around, He was the destination,” which I loved. Thinking about Jesus walking reminded me about how much I love walking. It’s something I miss here, because the streets are not nice and clean or even safe like they are in Kansas City (at least the parts I walked in!). I used to love walking with my best friend in the States. We would walk for hours, talking, not aiming in any specific direction, just to be out and be together. And she would always make me laugh so hard that I would need to stop walking for a while. LOL. I miss her.

    The other thing I really connected with was when she talked about going barefoot, and mentioned Moses being commanded to take off his shoes on holy ground. Funny she should mention that because I have often felt the need to remove my shoes during worship, even before moving to a place where everyone takes off their shoes inside. It just feels right and honoring sometimes to take off your shoes when standing in praise before a holy God.

    Ok so that was a lot, but I really wanted to talk about all those things!

    1. Jenny k November 6, 2014

      Thanks for sharing! I very much resonate with you about the desire to take my shoes off during periods of worship- it often feels more appropriate as you said, when standing in praise before holy God.

      I also liked her point “the beauty of physical practices like [walking a labyrinth] is that you don’t have to know what you are doing in order to begin.” Isn’t that our lives… when we move overseas we know that we will get on a plane, trying to learn a new language and try to love people. But other than the getting on the plane part, do we really know “what we are doing” with the rest of it? Or maybe that’s just me… but in any case it is a good balance. To walk a labyrinth you begin by taking steps and learn the rest as you go, yet you must know that you should take a step… sometimes I wish I knew more than that I needed to “take a step” in other areas of life, but usually that is enough to begin the process and the learning. And isn’t that often what God called his people to: Abraham, leave Ur; Moses, go talk to Pharaoh; Matthew, follow me. He asks them all just to begin moving and then shows them the rest along the way. My prayer is that I would be willing to take that step as he calls, wherever it happens to be towards.

      I also liked her quote, “The body is a great focus-er, whether the means is pain or pleasure. The body is a great reminder of where we came from and where we are going, on the one sacred journey that we all make whether we mean to or not.”

      As for the barefoot walking… that has to wait until at least May. I know there are people who teach their bodies to handle extreme temperatures and walk on snow with no shoes, but I am not one of them 🙂

      1. Amy Young November 6, 2014

        Ha! Jenny K. On the extreme weather :). I’ve never quite understood the whole “jump in really cold water in your swim suit!” I think you’re right that God rarely reveals other than the next step — I often joked I knew clearly I was being asked my God to make a two year commitment and could make that, hey, it was “just” two years. If he’d of said, it’s really going to be much longer, you will become an expert at killing mice, eating food so spicy you wonder if you’re damaging your insides (and secretly wonder if it’s possible for part of your insides to come out and how you’d handle that whole situation), living with no hot water for three years, nearly die, miss out on babies being born and your favorite sports team winning not one but TWO championships … I wonder if I’d of coming. I like to hope I would have :). Instead he said, “will you make a two year commitment and we’ll take it from there?” That I could do :). (p.s. curious what the temp is where you are)

        1. Jenny November 8, 2014

          It’s not too cold here yet. We had snow on Thursday but the temperature is still hovering just above freezing so nothing is sticking.

    2. Amy Young November 6, 2014

      I know! There is much I want to talk about too :). I’m sorry I’ve been a bit silent here this week, it’s been super busy and to sit and ponder on what’s been shared here feels luxiourous instead of productive (can tell I still need to practice some of these practices — like all of them!).

      As a pre-griever, I need to remind myself to be present and not to get too far ahead of myself. I’ve noticed in light of my dad dying, I’m already starting to grieve how sad I’ll be when my mom dies. And she’s alive and well! But I know she too will die some day. When I notice this tendency in myself, I’m trying to use it to tune in a be present :). To be grateful for the time I do have. I will say, my dad’s diagnosis was hepatitis C was, paradoxically, a huge gift to our family. We suddenly could no longer look very far into the future and needed to be fully present in whatever season we had. We ended up with another 10 years!

      And I think I need to add that Shane Claiborne’s book to my reading list!

  2. Jenny November 4, 2014

    Elizabeth I appreciate your first insight, and have been struggling with the same thing in guiding and connecting with my growing learners.

    and a big YES AND AMEN to both walking and other spiritual practices being not a set experience but a set path (I had underlined that bit also).  LIke you, I did not grow up in liturgical tradition but in the past few years I am enjoying trying out some historical set paths and delighting in how God meets me in fresh ways through the ancient paths!  This past summer I walked a labyrinth for the first time and really met Jesus on that, receiving a fresh measure of peace of mind during a very troubled time that resulted in the longest night of sleep I had had for months.

    I really embrace the concept of walking as a spiritual practice that nearly everyone can do, and would love ideas for doing this as a family.  anyone?

    As for the prostrations getting the pilgrims closer to the earth and thereby having a more enlightened experience as they are up close and personal with earth, I am skeptical.  I spent many years in a place where pilgrims do the prostration pilgrimage and in talking with them their takeaways were more about a thin hope that all that hardship of the journey would somehow benefit them or their loved ones, and a definite fear of an angry deity expecting more and more.  For many, tuning out rather than tuning in, was their aim and means of coping.  Perhaps the journey does wake up some pilgrims to earth and walking, just not the ones I have met.

    And Amy, thank you for sharing your cultural journeys of feet and floors! I can just see it in the way you described it.



    1. Amy Young November 6, 2014

      I really embrace the concept of walking as a spiritual practice that nearly everyone can do, and would love ideas for doing this as a family. anyone? One thought I had as I read this question was that my sister, her husband, and their four daughters have started biking as a family to church when the weather is warm enough. (I know this isn’t walking, but it’s also not riding in the car together!) It’s been a spiritual practice that has grown over time as girls got big enough to bike themselves and not need to be biked by mom or dad — but that also meant they were small enough to be slow, pokey, and in need of cheering on for the journey. I don’t know if you live where you can walk to church together or bike. But it’s become a special spiritual practice over the years (and I like there is a season rhythm to it too). If you live too far from church, maybe you could have one time a week you walk to a park, or a river, or some special destination.

    2. Amy Young November 6, 2014

      AND Agreed on the pilgrims and protestations! I’ve visited multiple time a place that practices a form of Buddhism that involves this. It seems more empty (earning merit and to be seen for the good deeds they are doing) than of being connected and present. I think she (and others who don’t really get how dark and empty it is) can romanticize it.

      1. Elizabeth November 7, 2014

        Amy and Jenny, I’m glad you added your experiences here with pilgrims and pilgrimages. I wasn’t super happy with those parts of the chapter, but wasn’t quite sure why. Thank you for helping explain it and put words to the unease.

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