I’ve never thought much of feet. Kind of gross, actually. Intricate and intimate, they bear the marks of a life’s journey.
Generally, though, I try to avert my eyes.
This Holy Week, however, I couldn’t help but stare.
The weekend preceding I attended a retreat on “Hope in the Encounter with Evil in our Times” hosted by a local congregation of The Christian Community – a Movement for Religious Renewal.
The Christian Community is church as imagined by the early twentieth century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, most well known in this country for Waldorf Education and biodynamic farming.
Within the purple washed walls of the sanctuary, I listened as a hundred anthroposophists discussed in heavily accented English the dualistic nature of evil. When my mind drifted from how to balance Luciferic and Aramonic influences, I took notice of my peers’ shoes. Ergonomic, perhaps vegan, sturdy, sensible, but not really like any shoe that I’ve ever seen at the store to consider buying. Where do they find them? In much the same way that their shoes were nominally shoes, I was left feeling our conversation was nominally Christian.
Then, on Wednesday, I went to Tenebrae at the Society of St. John the Evangelist. This ancient service of “shadows” is long and tedious. Amidst billowing incense seven candles are extinguished throughout the course of the evening after chanting the acrostic poem of Lamentations. Here the brothers all wear Birkenstocks with black socks. As ready to toss off and sit by the fire as slide on and run across Harvard Common. Ever so practical, immensely comfortable, not at all fashionable.
For simple service of Maundy Thursday, I went to Trinity Church, an ornate church, selected by PBS as one of the ten buildings that changed America. For the first time in my life I participated in the ritual of foot washing, realizing that fear of logistical ambiguity (and feet) was not good reason to withhold myself from full participation.
I first was struck by the image of Boston brahmins and Back Bay homeless padding around the ornate altar barefoot. But then, more to the point, when it came to wash, I realized I didn’t know how. A logistical fluke meant that I started a new washing station, rather than follow in a sequential line. Pouring water and wiping it off, shouldn’t be so difficult, but when it came time for my feet to be washed I realized how unsatisfyingly perfunctory my attempt at washing had been.
It’s much easier to wash another’s foot, to serve, to love, when the behavior has been modeled for you. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to do so without a little empathy.
On Easter, I was at the Rockefeller’s church in Woodstock, VT. The charming stone building on the town green was filled with the Upper Valley’s well-heeled. Polished and branded, our shoes, covered up the intricate and intimate parts, signifying worldly success and significance.
“And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”