[This is one of the posts telling a story from the life of my Dad. Click here to see the others.]
To reference the great poet, Merle Haggard, I come from a place where "leather boots are still in style for manly footwear." I remember the shock to my system when I left home to go to college in another part of the country and I was the only one on campus who ever wore them. (Come to think of it, I was also the only one there who ever wore a proper hat.) My college basketball coach was from New Jersey, and it was equally a shock to him to see me and realize that people actually do wear these kinds of things apart from Western movie sets. (He was also shocked that so many people actually drive pickup trucks, and I've written before about why pickup trucks are good for my soul.)
Since moving back to the western part of Texas five years ago from those other parts of the world, I've changed from a sometimes-boot-wearer to an everyday-boot-wearer. Part of the reason I've made this change is that–though this might not be the case for everyone (particularly for those of you from places like New Jersey)–I'm convinced that boots help me to live more prayerfully. I've come up with three reasons why this is so:
My boots connect me to my roots. Perhaps connection to my roots matters to me more than to others, since I work on the same spot of land where my great-grandparents, and the century full of generations between them and me, lived and worked. My aunt claims that my granddad never owned a pair of shoes–boots only. My dad was a boot-wearer as well. As soon as he found out he was dying of cancer, he had one gift he was intent on giving me: a pair of really nice boots. He also had a pair of really nice boots, which his mother had given to him, and he only brought them out for special occasions such as when he wore them to my college graduation. I plan on wearing the pair he gave me when it's my kids' turn.
My roots really matter to me, not just because of the place and lifestyle, but because of the faith that has been passed down to me to me through them. Each of those generations mentioned above were dedicated followers of Jesus, to the point that each of them helped start new Methodist churches in their communities, on their land, or even in their own homes. So, in a very real sense, I've been a boot-wearing Methodist longer than I've been alive. I live more prayerfully when I am mindful that any efforts I make at a prayerful life are building upon those of at least the three generations of boot-wearing Texas Methodists before me.
They're made for a moseying speed of life. Anyone who has ever tried to wear a pair of these things realizes that they aren't made for being in a hurry. Boots are a microcosm of life, because–in boots as in life–if you attempt to go too fast, pain will come. I am convinced that hurry is not part of a life well-lived (see more here and here). Whenever I have a sense of being in a hurry, it's a symptom of things being out-of-line at another level, and the hurry results in me being less patient and less able to enjoy the people I love. On the other hand, when I mosey, living prayerfully comes more easily and naturally, and I'm able to pay more attention to all of the good things that are part of my life every day.
It feels so good to take them off at the end of a work day. Prayerful lives through the ages–from the beginning of the monastic movement through history down to my boot-wearing ancestors–have often been organized around four things: prayer, study, work, and rest. I just mentioned how the boots give me a more prayerful orientation and pace, but they also help with those other aspects. In a place as dusty and full of things like cactus and mesquite thorns as this part of Texas, boots are a necessity for getting any work done outdoors. Even when I'm working at a desk (like right now), I feel like I'm more ready if something comes up that needs to be done outside than I would be if I was wearing a pair of dress shoes.
Then, even though some boots can be pretty comfortable, the best feeling they give is when they're taken off at the end of a day. Again–as with our speed–boots are a microcosm of life: if we don't rest, pain is coming. Taking the boots off and letting our bodies rest after working is as important a part of living prayerfully as anything else. Our capacity to do anything worthwhile in our lives with God is diminished drastically if let ourselves continually live in exhaustion.
(If you're observant, you'll notice that this accounts for prayer, work, and rest, but not study. I'm not sure that I've figured out how to make that link between my boots and my learning yet, but hopefully I'll connect those dots one of these days.)
Something I've prayed this week:
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people; Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Easter from The Book of Common Prayer)
[This is the 26th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]