On Sunday night we had a foot washing.
A few of us who were planning the service sat around beforehand talking about how things would go. We weren't sure there would be enough towels for everyone's feet. "Everyone should have their own towel," someone said. "It would be gross to have to use someone else's foot towel." We debated about the pitchers. Could we take a pitcher that had been on the table and use it at the footwashing? No, it was decided. That was weird. "People get really strange around feet," someone else said. "I just think that nothing from the table should be connected to the footwashing." Yet another person contributed: "Did you know that the feet and the genitals are right next to each other in the brain?" There was a silence as we considered this. "That makes sense," one of us responded. "That's why I feel so weird right now." We all nodded in agreement.
After dinner, we read the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet (John 13:1-17). A fiddle was struck up, and played a mournful melody as we moved to the entryway of the church, where small lanterns and candles glowed on the floor. There, chairs were set out with low basins and pitchers of warm water. Silently, we removed our shoes and socks, and sat down, allowed a stranger or a friend to take our feet in their hands, pour water over them, and dry them firmly with a fresh towel.
After, we stood together in our bare feet as the service wound to a quiet end. There was a calm in the room, a steady, even sense of acknowledged humanity.
I'm struck by the anxiety, named and unnamed, that was poured into this act, and the release that came as a result of it. Our desire to sanitize, to separate, create and maintain boundaries. Our fears that our feet were repellent or ugly, somehow too much to be touched or held by another. Perhaps the underlying fear is that we are too repellent or ugly to be touched or held by another.
So we fuss and worry for a while, and then remove our socks and shoes, and reveal the part of ourselves that is most tender, most bruised and broken, most forgotten and neglected. It is painful, perhaps terrifying. But the touch we receive is sure and healing, the water warm and cleansing and fragrant. And afterward, we somehow feel much better.