Running Barefoot and the Contemplative Life

by Amanda Peterson

When people find out I practice a contemplative life sometimes I get a dismissive look as if my practice is about keeping my eyes closed with no concern for what is happening in life.  Yet living a contemplative life is truly about connecting in a very real way.  I find is it like running barefoot.

Early one morning, as my radio turned on and I was half asleep listening to the news, a story come on about a runner who runs barefoot and how it is better for your body than running in shoes.  I was pretty sleepy, but the gist of the story was that the bare foot moves and balances better than the foot in a shoe.  The bare foot reacts to dangers in the path and helps the runner avoid them. Shoes can cause more damage to the foot and give the runner a false sense of security. And now there has been the creation of “barefoot shoes.”

This brought back thoughts of childhood and the process of toughening up our feet as summer began. We started each day by walking a few minutes barefoot on the hot cement.  Just a bit every day and before we knew it we were running around the entire neighborhood barefoot even at 100 degrees. There was freedom and connectedness as we felt the grass under our feet and the sound of our feet pounding on the cement. Even to this day I prefer being barefoot no matter where I live, hot or cold climate. I love the feel of the ground under my feet, the sounds they make. There is a sacred feeling in that connection.

Going barefoot also means there is the danger of getting hurt. As kids, we really had to pay attention to where we were going.  It took stepping on a nail to for me to learn that lesson.  Isn’t that like life?  We start out with abandon and then we get hurt causing us to rightly protect ourselves.  Yet the danger is not to create so much padding we lose our connection to life.  Life isn’t safe; at least that what I have come to understand.  I have a choice: hole up safe and protected or go out into the adventure paying attention, being aware, not expecting safety, but trusting God. That is the contemplative life.

Moses at the burning bush was asked to take off his shoes.  No insulation allowed on holy ground even if it seems like dangerous ground. God is saying, “Trust me, feel me from the very sole of your feet. I want you connected fully.”  Often in hospice situations I’ve wanted to take my shoes off at the door.  The level of grief, pain, joy and honoring in that room was truly holy and I instinctively wanted to be fully present.  No safety allowed.

In the walk with God there are times when the call is to take off our shoes  and really be vulnerable, trusting and aware.  The contemplative practice is one in which we look for the holy ground everywhere and are willing to be barefoot.  Even if it’s for a few moments.


When was the last time you took off your shoes and enjoyed the feeling and potential danger of going barefoot? Where in your life is God calling you to become more connected to the Holy?   Look at your shoes.  What do they say about your journey?  Spend some time walking barefoot, indoors or out, and pray as though you are on holy ground.