Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Traveling Shoes

Our house was grand central station the other morning at 4:30 am. Paul was loading up Joel to take him to his pick-up spot for detasseling and I was venturing to Omaha to drop off Anne at the airport. Half way to Omaha a thick fog settled in. As Anne took care of the condensation that had gathered on our windshield she thanked me for driving her in. Secretly, I was a bit pleased to know that this capable independent young adult still needed me, a little bit.

The spiritual “Traveling Shoes” was playing on the CD I was listening to on the way back to Lincoln:

Death came knocking on my front door
Singing come on sister ain’t you ready to go?
So I stooped down, buckled up my shoes
And I moved on down by the Jordan stream
And then I shout Hallelujah done done my duty
Got on my traveling shoes

Death has been a recurring theme in my life, lately. I have been to three funerals since Easter and another is pending. I attended one funeral for someone younger than me and another for a good friend from high school. Some deaths make us sigh not only in grief, but relief. Some deaths are expected and we know that loved one had his traveling shoes. Some deaths are inconceivable. My own loss, from the previous funeral, is nothing compared to that of the father and his eleven year old daughter who stood greeting people at the door. We know these loved ones had traveling shoes ready because they were children of God; yet, the wearing of those shoes came too early.

“Traveling Shoes” is a Spiritual and these beautiful songs, though simple in lyrics, are always steeped in meaning. The song is about being ready when it’s your time to die. In secular terms we would say you have your “affairs in order.” In spiritual terms we know our traveling shoes were issued to us at our baptism, when our heavenly Father called us by name and claimed us as our own.

“Traveling Shoes”, being a Spiritual was most likely about slavery. The transition in this song is about moving from captivity to freedom. In a literal sense that often meant death, but death also meant freedom. The slave was ready and willing to risk his life to throw off his chains. The chains we wear are the result of our own sin; the shackles that bind us do not scar our wrists and ankles but rather scar our heart and damage our relationship with God and others. Our freedom is not won through the arduous travel involved in an escape. Our freedom was won for us on the cross through the redeeming love of our Savior.

Let’s consider another meaning for “Traveling Shoes.” Many times in our lives, God comes knocking on our front door asking if we are ready and willing to travel. I have watched good friends sell all their possessions in order to put on their traveling shoes to do missionary work in Africa. Recently they retired and promptly turned right around and put a double knot into the laces of their traveling shoes. They will stay in their adopted country because there is more work for them to accomplish. I recently communicated with a friend and mentor who has given up her retirement to travel to another school to offer expertise and assistance. She willingly buckled up her shoes when God asked. God had me put on my traveling shoes when He asked me to transition from being a teacher to being a student. Now I pray He does not allow me to drag my feet.

I recently read a book on the topic of leadership written by a former Jesuit priest who traveled to the world of finance. (Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney) One of the foundations of spiritual exercises of the Jesuits is to foster a spirit of indifference. In essence this means having no earthly attachments and always standing ready to move on to the next thing to which God calls us. Death is not an end; it is a transition. We are called to many transitions in the journey of our faith. Sometimes we are asked to make sacrifices and sometimes we are asked to accept changes. A spirit of indifference does not mean that we are apathetic about the work we are currently doing. It means that we understand that work is God’s work, not our own. It means that we recognize we are His tools and are blessed to be at His disposal.

A spirit of indifference means when God comes knocking at our door we don’t convince ourselves we can’t go because we are so needed where we are, or because of some false sense of humility that causes us to believe we cannot do what He asks us to do. A spirit of indifference means we have our traveling shoes close by and that when we are called we stoop down to buckle them on and move on down by the Jordan stream, ready to go.

A few years ago I had a talk with God and informed Him that I would be quite happy to spend the rest of my working years teaching kindergarten at Faith. Well, who wouldn’t be? Faith has an awesome staff, a beautiful building and kindergarten allows you to spend time with five year olds and play with blocks and paint. Sounds like the perfect fit of shoes, to me. However, now, God has handed me some traveling shoes. These shoes are not yet broken in and have the potential to leave blisters. These shoes are new and the wearing of them is a bit scary, to me. I find myself wanting to remind God that I have flat feet; did He give me shoes that will adequately support my arches? I don’t want to endure any kind of pain or suffering, you know.

My new traveling shoes are going to take me to Selma Alabama through the virtual world of a computer classroom. I will be teaching an undergraduate course on measurements. This is not my area of expertise and therefore this pair of shoes is not a good fit. Yet, God is knocking on my front door. I am stooping down to buckle up my traveling shoes. I know that God is with me and He will give me people who can fill in the blank spaces so I can teach these students. If these traveling shoes give me a blister; He will give me a band-aid.

Abraham and Moses did great things when they answered God’s call and put on their traveling shoes. Joseph had no choice but to travel when he was sold into slavery and God provided him with shoes fit for a pharaoh. He knows what shoes he asks us to wear and He travels with us every step of the way.

A man’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?
Proverbs 20:21

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. I feel God has called me for traveling many times and most have gone unanswered. I am now ready to go and do what he needs me to. Thanks again for this uplifting word.