girl you go to God and get you some good shoes cause life ain’t steady ground
I have lived downtown for many years. Several cities. Several climates. Same situation. I have walked down my urban streets before things start to move and shake with daily traffic. It is not uncommon for the people who have slept on street benches or in alleys to still be sleeping as I make my way. Their quiet humanity frames my path. They are my neighbors. They sleep under cardboard. They blend with the city grey. I don’t know their names. Perhaps they are veterans. Perhaps they are parents. Perhaps they are hungry. Perhaps they are sick. Their story is my story if I open my arms wide enough.
When I lived in Cincinnati, there was a man who slept on the same block as my Starbucks. He used his shoes as a pillow. Worn boots were nestled under his chin. It looked as if the boots were arms offering comfort. I saw him on the same bench several times. That must have been where he sleeps.
In her poem Prayers Like Shoes, Ruth Forman explains, “I wear prayers like shoes. Pull em on quiet each morning take me through the uncertain day.” Shoes are strength. She shares that the most useful advice her mother ever gave her was, “girl you go to God, and get you some good shoes, cause life ain’t steady ground.” If prayers are like shoes, it is prayer that sustains. Prayer is essential and relevant. Prayer provides a foundation for life.
Maybe the boots that cradle the head of the man who lives outside of Starbucks are a kind of prayer. They protect him when he is asleep. They support him during the day. They make his world a bit less uncertain as he makes his way. They don’t alleviate his suffering, they simply offer him strength. Maybe he sees them like that? I believe prayer can be that present and abiding.
There is a challenge to the whole prayer like shoes idea. If prayers are like shoes, then we are called to make prayer a part of our lives in real and tangible ways. People can understand prayer differently. If prayer is constant and unceasing, then we must pray even when we feel alone and angry. If prayer is a conscious conversation with God, than we are called to see the Divine throughout our world. If prayer is about self-awareness, than we are called to live mindfully. If prayer is about finding oneness with others, than we are called to act in ways that are loving and compassionate. Meister Eckhart reflects, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” In that since, prayer is gratitude. I think prayer is about a little of all of that. It takes practice to pray. Ultimately, the idea that prayer can be like shoes makes me think of prayer as a journey that unfolds in steps, missteps, twists, and turns.