One of the traditions of Maundy Thursday services in the Episcopal Church is the reliving of the story of Jesus' final moments with the disciples, from the evangelist John's point of view. That means instead of focusing on the words of institution Jesus uttered at the Last Supper... he talks of the foot washing. Jesus takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around his waist, and washes the feet of his disciples. Even Peter, who doth protest way, way, waaay too much by insisting that Jesus NOT do this, and then "oh, well... while you're at it, Lord, wash my hands, too." Jesus (who is a much kinder man in John's gospel than in, say, Mark) explains patiently to Peter that those who have bathed don't need anything washed but the feet.
Feet, in those days, were very dirty. People walked everywhere, and they only wore sandals out in the dusty Palestinian towns, so feet needing washing. And even though we wear closed-toed shoes, and spend most of our days going to and fro in a motor vehicle, our feet still need washing.
In my massage practice, I have on occasion washed a person's feet. Usually because they are feeling embarrassed by the odor from having their feet encased in shoes all day; or the fact that the dye inside their shoes has leaked onto their skin; or that their feet are just plain dirty. Whatever the reason, whatever the apology, I simply offer that I can wash their feet. It is one of the "occasional services" of my massage ministry that I find sets a tone of comfort for a client. Something that has caused them angst is being addressed in a simple and sweet way. There is a nice feeling of having your feet massaged with water and soap... to be followed by a light oil or Shea butter... and then wrapped in a cotton towel. I have seen the wrinkles of tension on a client's face lift a little just at the sensation of having someone pay attention to their feet.
Working on the feet, allowing our feet to be exposed, can sometimes be the first step (pun intended) toward stripping away our ego. People can be very embarrassed about their feet. They worry about rough edges, or toe hair, or toe nails, or callouses, or even a problem that causes a deformity of some kind. But these tender parts of our body are the very things that for most of us make contact with the earth, keeping us grounded in the creation that's around us. And, just as in the days of Jesus, the feet are the body part that get dirty quickly. To unveil the feet is the beginning of the unveiling of the rest of us. And the things that embarrass us about our feet... our smelly dirty unclipped feet... can sometimes serve as the metaphor for what embarrasses us about our selves.
"I can't be seen by another because I'm too ...." fill in the blank of your favorite personal self-degrading comment. So often, that is just an ego-driven lie designed to keep us from being our true selves... and sharing with one another the very lovely thing that God sees... namely us in our naked truth.
This evening, the first thing I did before praying, I took off my socks and my shoes. The feeling of having my feet free of my sneakers and the delightful sensation of touching the worn old wooden floor of the church made me think, "I'm just gonna do this whole service barefoot!" It felt like the right and holy thing to do. And as we chanted our way through Psalm 22, I was again hit with the stripping away of the altar as the metaphor for the removal of the socks and shoes of our egos. All the adornments that we put on to make that space so sacred and beautiful is stripped down to it's equally beautiful bare wood. Although the altar is exposed, it is still the Lord's Table... fair linen or not. Although our feet are exposed, they are still that tender and important foundation of our body... shoes and socks or not.
Love your feet no matter what they look like in their nakedness.