Thursday, March 24, 2005

Maundy Thursday

I have always hated my feet. To their credit, they have served me faithfully for nearly 40 years now without ever developing so much as a callous worth complaining about. They have produced no hangnails, nor have they ever refused to transport me to any chosen destination. The only complaint I have ever reasonably made about them is in relation to their size; they require size 11 shoes. Standing at 5 feet and 10 inches in height, I would look odd with size six feet, or so I’ve been told. I, however, would love the opportunity to test that theory out myself.

In the past couple of years, two things have altered my attitude about my feet. First of all, I have spent a fair amount of time in the past six weeks looking at my feet than ever before. I have begun to practice yoga. Bent over at the waist trying to put the top of my head on the floor, I have plenty of time to look at my feet. Extending my feet five feet away from each other while bending one knee to the vertical and making sure it stays “on the little toe side of the foot” provides me with ample opportunity to examine the big and little toes of my big feet. The other (relatively) newly undertaken habit in my life is the magical practice of receiving pedicures. I don’t get them often; in fact, I have had fewer than ten pedicures in my life. There is a spa just a few minutes from our house where a wonderful and tender-hearted woman has made my barge sized feet feel like the most beautiful and petite little paws she has ever encountered. She soaks them, scrubs them, removes any hard and dry skin, paints the nails, and does just about everything else she can think of to make me and my feet feel most welcome in her little corner of paradise. My feet and I are most grateful for her tender care. Even though I haven’t been back to the spa in more than a year, I have taken better care of my feet with scrubs, buffers, and creams since meeting that darling foot specialist than ever before. Both yoga and meticulous foot care have caused me to appreciate these brogans in a new way.

I won’t soon forget the discomfort I felt the first time I received a pedicure. It was at a salon in Connecticut where the women who performed the manicures and pedicures did not speak to each other in English. They greeted and conversed with their clients in English, but the rest of the time, they spoke to each other in a language that none of their clients understood. So when the time came for me to extract my feet from my socks and deposit them into the warm, bubbly water, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of their animated exchanges revolved around my extreme lower extremities. I wondered if the rough skin on my feet was the worst she’d ever seen. I wondered if my nails were the hardest she’d ever had to cut. I wondered about every possible worry related to my feet that day. As soon as she was done and my toenail polish was reasonably dry, I tipped her generously and ran out to my car with the cotton still between my toes. I swore to myself I’d never humiliate myself like that again. How could I ever bare my toes in front of innocent bystanders? Why would I subject anyone to the offense of having to wash my feet?

Which brings me to Maundy Thursday. Today is the day when Christians around the world remember two important practices introduced on this day in history by our Lord Jesus Christ. First of all, He instituted the most important meal in the life of the church: the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Communion. With the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup, His followers remember and celebrate His death on our behalf. I am reminded of last year’s movie phenomenon, The Passion of the Christ, and the scene where Christ sat with His disciples at the Passover Table and gave to them an entirely new way of understanding the tradition of the unleavened bread and the wine. His broken body and shed blood are symbolized in those two basic elements in such a simple way that even my young children are moved to silence and reflection whenever Communion is shared at our church.

But what I never connected to the holiness of this week until this year is what Jesus did for His disciples before the Eucharist. He removed His outer garments, tied a towel around his waist, got down on his knees, and proceeded to wash the dusty and tired feet of His dusty and tired disciples. Those were not the dainty, well-scrubbed feet of the average suburban mom. Those were not the feet of well-fed and well-dressed businessmen whose feet are regularly shod in fine Italian shoes. Those were the calloused, rough, road-weary feet of fishermen who had spent most of the previous three years walking all over the Middle East. But there He was, Christ the Lord, on His knees with a water basin nearby, cleaning their feet with the same hands that had fed thousands, healed hundreds, held children, and been lifted up in prayer to His father in Heaven. Those same hands of mercy and compassion that touched countless lives expressed that same mercy and compassion as He tenderly caressed one of the least appreciated body parts. And when He finished washing their feet, He instructed them to follow His example and wash each other's feet.

Could I have done what He did? Could I have bent down in front of twelve people that I knew would betray me, abandon me, and deny me and washed their feet? Could I have humbled myself in front of the people who looked up to me, who relied on me, who depended on my for nearly everything they needed and washed their feet? Can I do that now with my husband and children, the same people who criticize me, slam their doors in anger against me, refuse to eat the food I’ve cooked, and reject my attempts to heal the rifts between us? What about neighbors whose dogs leave unexpected gifts on my lawn and friends and relatives whose careless comments leave me wincing – can I bow down before them also and wash their feet? Can I overcome my feelings about my own feet long enough to wash anyone else’s? Have I ever obeyed that part of Christ's instructions to His church?

It’s one thing to come to appreciate the strength and stamina of my feet while grunting and stretching my way through a yoga workout in the privacy of my own home. It’s one thing for me to pay a total stranger to pamper my feet in the privacy of a spa’s back room. It’s another thing entirely for me to set aside my dignity and my foot-phobia, to risk the funky smells and unusual growths and thick yellow toenails of those whose life paths I have crossed in order to follow the example of Christ’s servant leadership as demonstrated centuries ago on Maundy Thursday.

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