Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. When Henry David Thoreau penned those words in Walden, he had just dug through a foot of snow and cut through another foot of ice in search of fresh water. Kneeling to drink from the pond below, he looked “down into the quiet parlor of the fishes” where a “perennial waveless serenity reigns.” Ahh, heaven.
Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. When I saw the words the other day, this time on a sign hung over the cash register in a local nursery and vegetable stand, I wondered about what is under my feet and whether I could find heaven there, too. I thought of the grassy meadows Eastern Meadowlarks breed, the leafy paths through nearby woods, and the sandy beaches of the York River —yes, surely heaven is under my feet in those places. It is also underfoot in my own yard, dandelions and all, where I play with my dog, and in my small herb garden where I snip parsley or thyme.
Digging down, what else would be underfoot? Earth worms and mole tunnels; ruins of brick foundations and shards of glass from the past. Also modern technological things—gurgling water and sewer pipes; pulsing electrical, phone, and internet cables carrying information and making connections. In cemeteries there would be the quiet bones or ashes of the dearly departed. In large metropolises, there might be bustling subway tunnels teeming at rush hour with commuters and tourists. Is heaven found in those places, too?
Perhaps that answer depends on one’s point of view. Farmers and gardeners might say yes to the earthworms—but maybe not the moles. The newly grieving may or may not yet find heavenly solace in a cemetery. The pipes that bring clean fresh water to my faucets and the cables that link me with friends and strangers and instructional videos and news of the world —well, I wouldn’t call them heaven¸ exactly. Yet when I think of what they do and how they let me live, I do regard them as being close to miraculous in their own way.
Even further below are the tectonic plates on which our continents ride, at times shifting in ways that literally make the earth move under our feet. Do they evoke heaven? And there are in this amazing and ever-changing world exquisite places where the land under human feet was created by the boiling up of lava from deep in the earth’s core. I’m thinking particularly now of the Big Island of Hawaii where the eruption of lava through fissures in the earth’s crust has destroyed homes and cars and filled the air with noxious fumes. Hawaii has often been described as heaven on earth, but especially to those living there now, this eruption must seem as though not heaven but hell has broken out from where it had been simmering under their feet for eons.
Do you ever think about what’s under your feet? I don’t very much. The things I see above ground and over my head are what engage the bulk of my attention—and form the stuff of most of my prayers. Thoreau, however, and whoever hung Thoreau’s words at Charlie’s Produce and Nursery remind me to consider the mostly unseen world that lies under our feet. This too is a world that calls us to pray—prayers for help and prayers of petition like the ones we now send up to heaven for the people of Hawaii, but also prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of wonder and awe, and prayers of praise.