header
Facebook Twitter Google Plus
Through Europe on Slippers
O. P. Kretzmann

It was no accident of my forgetfulness… I had decided to go to Europe and my tight budget left no room for a new pair of shoes… So I journeyed back to lands whence my fathers had come with nothing on my feet except a fragile pair of slippers, little enough for Alpine snows or Italian floods…

Nor was it a ploy to gain sympathy… I cared little for the occasional plaudits of hippies who doubtlessly considered me a strange case of arrested development or a slightly demented representative of an unpredictable generation… If I wanted to walk the broken streets of Assisi or Siena in my slippers who was to say me yea or nay?… Certainly not the barefoot children of Europe in the little towns nor our own unshod children of America abroad…

Walking through Europe in slippers was a necessity which turned into a virtue… As I embarked for the lands of my ancestors, I knew that for several weeks I would be walking near the great… Would not my slippers walk easier over their hearts and let them overlook the many times I had trod roughshod over their works and smashed their images into the ground ?… There are places on the earth, especially in Europe, where one must tread lightly and reverently lest the past be destroyed… There is too much to be remembered which can be missed by a careless heel…

And so I walked quietly in places where the dead are sleeping… Not only out of my respect for their sleep, but also out of a deep respect for their majority… If this vast and silent majority of the dead could speak, what volumes of wisdom they could lift up before me… It makes no difference who they were in life… In death they are a wise and silent majority to whom the living owe attention and respect…

I may not hear them clearly, but their voices are in the rustle and crackle of the frozen bush and the murmuring wind in the falling snow… I cannot hear these voices in the noise of the city and among the confused voices of my contemporaries… I must go out to the hills and down into the little towns on quiet slippered feet to hear their whispering… The wearing of slippers in Europe became a defense against the present and an observance of the past… Yesterday came alive in every monument and one could walk reverently among the statues as if the stones could cry out…

But there were other reasons for wearing quiet slippers through Europe… From that land our ancestors came, bringing with them some differences of opinion… In time the differences were imprisoned on our shores and became largely academic… And yet last summer our denomination met in convention and we discovered to our dismay that over the treacherous years some of those differences had grown into vast cleavages of hatred, suspicion, and fear… Brothers despised brothers in ways which look strangely out of place in a churchyard in Europe…

So I must walk with soft, slippered feet over the dust of our fathers and remember that one generation cannot guarantee the peace of another… They could not fore tell what we would do with their cloistered arguments, nor could they foresee their theological debates rising into ominously ungodly cries of crucify him!… On I walked in slippered feet over their graves; I had not come to accuse or condemn, but rather to express my new understanding… And the slippers on my feet reflected the dress of my mind… What was once a solemn judgment, filled with Father, forgive them had, over the years and in the bitter cup of experience, become a prayer Father, forgive us

While walking through Europe in slippers, each step spoke to me of vanished power and forgotten glory. One day I stood at Avignon, the little, dingy French town to which some dissident popes had fled many years ago… I could barely remember the original controversy that had driven the popes out of the magnificence of Rome to this outpost on the Rhone… The day will come when our sons and their sons will as little remember our controversies too… And we shall be as footnotes in a much unread book…

There is in this world nothing more silent than the silence of what is past… Yet it is a curious, fertile silence because it is full of whispers of a new dawn… And on slippered feet it is a silence which carries within it the promise of a better day…

Copyright © 2014 | Valparaiso University | Privacy Policy
rose