Thursday, 1 April 2010

Love is not Lame: A Meditation for Maundy Thursday

So he rose from the table, took off his outer garment, and tied a towel around his waist. Then he poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.
(John 13:4-5)
I take your feet, and I put the lotion on it, and massage it in each foot in turn, taking away the pain from the crystal deposits, putting movement back into your joints, so that you can flex your toes, enjoy a degree of suppleness again. And you ask me: "Do you mind doing this for me?", as if perhaps I might be bored by the repeated pressure of my fingers and thumbs along your heel, your ankle, your toes.
Whenever I hear the story of the woman anointing Jesus feet with precious oil, it is now more than a story of an act of devotion, because I remember anointing your feet with the lotion all that summer, your last summer, every evening I was there. It was for Jesus a sign of his coming death, for there would be no time to anoint his body when the time came.
And for you too, my dear, all that preparation was taken from us. The modern passage of death takes that from us, and it is taken into the hands of the funeral directors. They take care, they show respect for the mourners, but I cannot help feel we have lost something of that contact; we are distanced from death. But I can look back on my anointing of your feet, and see in that a memory of mourning, an act of grief and love.
What is the spiritual? In today's world, it is so often seen as something within our minds, a raised consciousness, a heightening of perception. But I find the spiritual so much more in that which is embodied, in the physicality, in eating bread, and drinking wine. The esoteric consciousness raising has everything to do with self, but the anointing of feet is an act of giving. Here we make contact, reach out, touch. Sometimes no words are needed.
The Gnostics saw flesh and blood as something weak, something to be overcome, when they would become pure creatures of spirit, far above the earthly realms. There is no place for anointing of feet in the Gnostic gospels, nor any place for the dusty road, for the travellers with tired feet to rest. The mind is all; spirit is immaterial. But Irenaeus said that "He who washed the feet of the disciples sanctified the entire body".

There are 75 references to feet in the New Testament. There are those who are lame, those who fall down begging for help at Jesus feet, and St Paul speaking of the church as the body, says that the eye cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you.
We prioritise the eye, and vision, but when I remember the freedom and joy you had with your mobility scooter, because before you could not move far. But now, if you could not walk, at least you could go so many places where people could walk, I could see how important that was to you as a person. Sight is important, but it is not the only thing that makes us who we are. "The blind can see, the lame can walk.."
The story of the foot washing, of Jesus washing his disciples feet had always been to me an act of humility, but now I understand it so much better. It has become a part of ritual, a symbol of service, where the priest washes the feet of twelve of the congregation. But perhaps we need to extend beyond the symbolic again. Perhaps if everyone washed their neighbours feet, and dried them after, they would participate rather than just watch, reach out and touch, and enact, rather than look on from afar. We have to close the distance between the onlooker and the human act. We have to touch people.
I remember how I would pour the lotion on your feet, work it between your toes, smooth it along your ankles. And you would so often ask me: "Do you mind doing this for me?", as if perhaps I might be bored by the repeated pressure of my fingers and thumbs along your heel, your ankle, your toes.
But how could I mind? It was a privilege and a joy for me to do so. That is the real truth of the act when Jesus washed his disciples feet. It was not just an act of humility, a lesson of service for one another for them to learn. It was also a deeper lesson, an act of love.
You would often ask me what love meant, and you were mistrustful about finding love in our feelings, the emotions of love. You said your favourite definition of love was "to extend beyond the boundaries of the self in order to nurture the growth of another"
But for me now, perhaps that is also too abstract. Love is anointing or washing another's feet. It does not encompass all that love is, but it is an acted parable of love in action. It is enough for now.

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