Barefoot Church on a Sunday Morning

The conversation between two runners assaulted my ears as I pulled my car under the shade tree in the lower lot at Reynolda Gardens. I adjusted my socks and shoes while the men talked loudly about war and China conspiracies, shifting from one dystopian topic to the other without a breath in between. “Gentlemen, it’s Sunday,” I yelled as I began the short walk across the lower meadow toward the boat house path and into the woods. They laughed. “We’re on our way to church.” I turned toward them and smiled. “You’re in church, right now. Look around you. This is church!” I took off toward the path at a fast clip, confident that my smug righteousness would leave them thinking about more than guns and politics.  

The Gardens was a busy place this Sunday morning. Near my starting point were people – lots of them. And without exception, every single person within my sight was engaging with a phone while strolling babies or walking dogs. Gah! How inattentive can one be? A short way down the trail, a woman scurried past without seeing me and without hearing the birdsong, the cicada choir, or the wind playing tag with the leaves. She was entranced by her phone, blind and unaware of her surroundings.

The present morning and its many gifts were being ignored by my fellow travelers and I wanted to shake them awake.

Some portals are entered seamlessly. Just as I began to feel my own tension creeping in, The Divine showed up as a handsome young hippie dude walking down the path toward me, barefooted. We greeted each other as familiars and stopped to chat. I listened while he talked about how good his body felt when his bare feet touched the ground, how nothing ached, how not one bone felt out of place. We talked about the creatures living below us and how connected we feel with the earth when we walk as part of a greater whole.  

I thanked that precious human being for his inspiration, then removed my shoes and socks. Free to explore, my bare feet and awareness expanded into renewed comfort and joyful innocence with each slow step up the path. No need to hurry, and I didn’t want to. In an aha moment, the fast, sweat-inducing walk I had planned and the smug, preachy words to the runners about nature’s church flashed to the surface and exposed my hypocrisy before falling away, leaving me feeling lighter, happier, and grateful.  

The people walking the path with me changed, too. A smiling, gentle woman strolled with her seventeen-year-old beloved dog Tipsy who gifted me with kisses when I stooped to rub her sweet head. A little further up the path, an effervescent and resilient friend accompanied by a cheerful white poodle shared good news of his continued healing after years of being chased by cancer.  

Barefooted. Carrying my shoes. Swinging my body so naturally (and maybe somewhat gracefully) across the graveled split to the dirt path on the back side of the meadow where there were more dogs, more people, and not one cell phone or ear bud in sight. We smiled at each other, and exchanged pleasantries, and marveled at the morning while the birds, the cicadas, and the leaves marveled back at us.    

I sang as I walked on my delighted bare feet down Jaco’s Cut, then through the big meadow and back toward the estate and gardens, profoundly aware of every deliciously naked step. After rustling around like a spellbound child in the Magnolia family’s thick carpet of dry fallen leaves, I sat on the steps near the greenhouse and pulled on my shoes for the short walk back across the asphalt to the car. Leaving the portal was the first moment I realized I had been in one.  

Again, I saw people, many people. People on phones, people pushing strollers while talking on phones, people walking dogs with phones glued to their ears. But my perception was altered. The urge to critique their behavior disappeared in the portal.  

May I always remember to see beyond my eyes. May I always stay open to the barefoot portal. May I always remember the power of sole to soul.
For the stone-skipping barefoot girls

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