A trail of muddy paw prints led across the living room rug — and straight to a shamefaced Lhasa Apso, who looked up at me with pleading eyes.
I sighed and reached for a bottle of stain remover, chiding myself for having forgotten to wipe my dog’s paws after we’d returned from the park. I’d been preoccupied over a recent quarrel with a friend, regretting my words and the pain they had caused. Like my dog, I’d left a messy trail of my own, invisible but no less real.
Literally and figuratively, footprints tell our story. The world’s oldest human tracks are estimated to have been made some 3.6 million years ago in Tanzania; a 2017 report suggested that still older prints, from almost 6 million years ago, had been discovered in Crete. Our ancestral trail in North America is much fresher: in 2014, archaeologists working in British Columbia unearthed 29 footprints, possibly made by two adults and a child about 13,000 years ago.
Forensic scientists attest that human footprints are as unique as fingerprints; even covered by shoes, such impressions can reveal crucial details about a person’s height, weight and gait. From a global perspective, we are increasingly (and rightly) concerned about our carbon footprint, the measure of the greenhouse gases we emit as a result of our manifold activities — manufacturing, building, farming, travel.
Scripture witnesses to the unseen Lord’s tracks on the earth, made before he took on flesh. “You adorn the year with your bounty; your paths drip with fruitful rain,” the psalmist marvels; some translations of Psalm 65:12 (11) speak directly of God’s footprints. Where the Lord walks, life abounds.
Awkward and unlovely as they may at times seem, feet figure rather significantly with God. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news … announcing salvation, saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!’” the prophet Isaiah exclaims (Is 52:7). Those who embrace this good news and claim the Lord as their shepherd are trailed by “goodness and mercy” (Ps 23:6). The world should be a better place wherever the Lord’s own have trod.
Day by day, we all leave footprints — through what we have done, and what we have failed to do. Our tracks give witness to our being: I was here; I left a mark. Our wanderings in turn mark us: blisters and calluses on our soles and souls.
Such scars should stir us to compassion, as American poet Mary T. Lathrap famously wrote in her 1895 poem “Judge Softly”: “Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps, / Or stumbles along the road / Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears, / Or stumbled beneath the same load.”
In the liturgical year, we are now journeying through Ordinary Time, walking with the Lord as he teaches, heals and proclaims the good news of his love and mercy. These days will pass quickly: Ash Wednesday will catch us off guard; Lent will begin with good intentions too often lost to the demands of the moment. On Holy Thursday, we will remove our shoes as the Lord washes our feet, modeling his command of humble service.
As we step into this new year, let us follow in his paths so that we might present to him feet coated in the dust of obedience, and bruised by love for one another.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com. Follow her on Twitter @GinaJesseReina.
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