A few years ago I wrote a book called Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility. Because it was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, 2011, it has been read by quite a lot of people. I received fair bit of feedback at the time and still do. Indeed I am this weekend in a Birmingham parish where a number of people read it just recently. Apparently their discussion really took off when it came to the subject of foot-washing. During the peace on Thursday night someone I had never met before greatly me warmly, saying, ‘I really enjoyed your book’. Such moments are deeply touching, humbling and rewarding. But this blog is about a response to the book which is all of those things – but in a way that is off the scale.
When I was writing Barefoot Disciple, I did, from time to time, take off my shoes and socks and step out into our very large and overgrown former rectory garden and do a kind of walking meditation. You could call it a wincing meditation, as I am not very hardy. But I remain glad for the memory of walking barefoot on frosty grass and damp gravel.
What I never expected, however, was that anyone would pick up the idea and take it one step further. But this is exactly what Hannah Phillips has done these last few years, deciding to go barefoot through Holy Week, come what may. It was always a bold decision – but the weather this year has made it especially challenging.
This is how Hannah explains how the experience has challenged her.
When my feet hurt, I often felt tempted to take the easy path – to walk on the grass rather than on the gravel, so to speak. But I thought this would be missing the point. Many people around the world don’t have the option to take an easy route.
I think our journey of faith is like this. We are often faced with difficult decisions, and we must trust in God to guide us onto the right path.
Hannah’s barefoot experience is one from which I have learnt quite a lot: simply by reflecting on how much I don’t want to do any such thing myself. I mean: so cold, so scratchy, so dirty and so difficult to explain. It is a radical and prophetic gesture, pointing to the reality of the down to earth poverty of so many of God’s people, and the vulnerability that we are all invited to share as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
On her blog http://cakeandtheology.blogspot.co.uk/ Hannah has written about her own learning too:
Soon after Jesus rode in in his glory, people in the hierarchy saw his difference as a challenge to them. Instead of embracing his humility they fought it. They did not spare the time to understand him, instead they condemned him to death. Every time we walk past the person in the street behaving slightly differently and judge them we are complicit in what happened to Jesus. Just as when we welcome in the stranger to our house, we are welcoming Jesus in too.
Walking barefoot has highlighted for me how judgemental I can be. It is easy to condemn others before you understand them. It is easy to look at me and say I am mad, poor or just plain stupid, when you do not know why I have bare feet. I am vulnerable and I seek to be understood. How many other people feel like that and do I do enough to listen?
There is much to learn by reflecting all this. And, who knows, a reader of this blog might be inspired to a barefoot venture of their own. Hannah’ barefoot days are also raising money for Us.- formerly USPG – http://www.weareus.org.uk/
If you wish you can make a supportive donation here: https://www.justgiving.com/account/your-pages/Hannah-Phillips7