Modern Walking | On Shoes, Grace, and the Good Life

by Maria Grizzetti

Edgar Degas, Dancers Tying Shoes ,1883 | Cleveland Museum of Art

Edgar Degas, Dancers Tying Shoes, 1883 | Cleveland Museum of Art


‘These shoes are made for walking…’

Yes, shoes are made for walking.  That is obvious, I’d say.  Although, as an aside, some would argue that the most beautiful pairs of shoes are made for sitting. I have a good friend who tells me some shoes are so spectacular one simply sits in them. I think this pertains particularly to women’s shoes. I have a few of these pairs; one can barely walk in them. They do not fulfill their walking end—their telos is altogether different.

And no, this is not the adapted refrain to a well-known and problematic country anthem about boots and walking over people – violent retaliation for often betrayed love.  

I happen to be one of those people who loves shoes and has a collection of them. Blame my tendency for overindulgence, but my opinion has long been that one can never have enough shoes.  And by shoes I do not mean comfortable, practical pairs. I mean those delicate works of couture art that glisten and sparkle and cannot handle rain, or NY winters, or cobblestones on Bond Street, or the marbled broadwalks of Paris and Rome.  For all intents and purposes the collection is hugely impractical. It also occupies a sizeable portion of my miniature apartment, so much so that my husband once proposed I take on paying a portion of our rent commensurate to the square footage of the shoe collection.

Excess or veritable fashion appreciation aside, I will, however, venture to make analogy between shoes and grace and the good life. After all, we are told, even in the pursuit of purported vice, one actually aspires to happiness, to virtue. And, we are likewise assured that grace acts on (overindulgent) nature…

It starts with the ‘way,’ and the viatoris currently on it. ‘Viator’: from the Latin, one on the way; ‘viatoris’: the way-goers, or pilgrims.

We are often given to contemplate the meaning of pilgrimage in our lives. The modern word that has replaced ‘pilgrimage’ is ‘journey’. There is something lovely about journeying, but in the replacement we lose the supplication inherent in the traditional understanding of pilgrimage. Supplication is replaced by searching. As if somehow we are in control not just of the search, but how it will end, and what we shall then discover–self-reliant masterminds of planning that we think we are.

But lest we digress:

‘Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals (cf. Luke 10.4)’

These are the instructions Christ gives his own, and to us now. And yet, it is a scary proposition to walk the streets of New York without ‘sandals’, or money bag for that matter. One would not get very far; the experience would literally be that of sheep, meeting wolves.

So why does He tell them not to take things with them on the journey? Yes, He wishes them to be dependent on the generosity of others.  And, yes, the ‘others’ should be generous. After all, the instruction on sandals and money bags is followed by the command to remain in the first house they come to, to eat what is offered them and proclaim peace, to leave a blessing.

But a deeper reading might perhaps lead us to consider the ‘sandals’ left behind and providence; shoes analogously considered, as symbols of trust — in grace. Perhaps they are told not to take sandals because He will provide for the way they will travel. He will give them from the stores of his providence the necessities they depend on.

Grace, that essential element given us in the form of a gift to live the life of faith is something we can neither provide for ourselves, nor take with us as from a storing place of earthly goods, as one might pack a bag, and assemble provisions for journey.

We are dependent beings — pilgrims in constant supplication, viators on the way of grace and faith.  The connection is a modern one. The love of earthly things, good as they are, helpful as they might be, beautiful and pleasing and enjoyable as they seem, is a sign and road marker of the greater goods we seek and the even greater needs we have.  It is not that many shoes are bad.  It is that even all the shoes in the world will never be enough.

Next time I look in my closet – early morning frenzy for the perfect skirt-length/ heel/ texture-contrast combination, I will confront the many reminders of God’s providence in the stacked color coded pairs; meager earthly goods to mirror for us divine generosity, and aid an earthly pas de deux between God and man. Such is the nature of modern pilgrimage, a bon voyage, leading to Happiness itself.  Not even shoes, many shoes, escape the plan of God. Those bags and boxes lugged on New York subways are perhaps the means He uses to teach us about his goodness, his creative generosity, and the joys inherent in walking with Him on this pilgrimage of desire for the good life.  For however many shoe boxes we manage to carry on crowded trains at rush hour, ultimately, we will want still more of them. Fashions change (all the time).  Fall is coming. The dance is life-long. The heart is restless.

And let’s not talk of jeweled python heels… That would take us right back to Adam and Eve, and a snake in a Garden, and all the way to a Woman, clothed with the sun, a dragon under her feet…  Mental note: python heels are for crushing dragons; wardrobe staples in a world beset by dragons.

The spirit of virtuous restraint and holy poverty we will treat another time. In light of God’s largesse.

Welcome — to an incarnational life(style); modern, and ancient, and beautiful, and good — like those many pairs of beribboned, jeweled shoes.

Let the walking, nay, the dancing, begin.


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