I don’t know if it’s intrinsic to my personality or if I’ve just trained myself this way, but I tend to closely observe whatever is happening around me and also inside me. I experience emotions, but I simultaneously paint pictures of them. I marvel over beauty, but then I have to wrap words around it.
In some ways this tendency can render life in clinical terms, but mostly it seems to allow me enough distance to approach any new experience without prejudice or worry about self-preservation. After all, as an observer, I’m apart. I’m safe.
Which brings me to my next Croatia story, one I feel is particularly appropriate, considering where we are in Holy Week. During the last supper with His disciples, Jesus took the role of a household servant and washed their feet. It was a common practice of the most menial nature. People in those days wore sandals and walked on dusty roads. Their feet got hot and dirty. When they entered a home, basic hospitality dictated a host offer this cleansing and refreshing service.
It’s not surprising then that foot washing has come to represent servanthood, cleansing, and spiritual refreshment. I’ve also seen it used as a symbol of reconciliation–a chance for people to humble themselves and restore relationships. All good stuff.
And yet, in my own experience it always struck me as a bit forced or awkward. I mean, it made perfect sense in Jesus’ day–like we would offer a cool beverage to a summer visitor. It didn’t seem logical that the specific act of washing someone’s feet somehow released a special power or grace. Weren’t there other, more practical ways to reconcile or serve?
When I heard that one of the women on the retreat staff, Kathy, had a “foot washing ministry” and would be providing it for the attendees, my curiosity was piqued. She said she’d seen God work in powerful ways–that as she washed feet, many people poured out their hearts and went away not only with soft, lotiony feet, but with cleansed souls.
As the official photographer for the retreats, one of my assignments was to document Kathy’s foot-washing ministry. I arranged to be there before one of her appointments started. (The last thing I wanted to do was barge in and catch someone’s soul mid-rinse cycle.) I arrived without preconceptions, ready to observe and shoot, and proceeded to scope out the set up and plot my photographic course. In addition to Kathy’s station, a harpist played soothing music per the foot washee’s request. I wanted to capture all of this to its best advantage. And I really wanted to see how it played out with the woman in the chair. I mean, foot washing is an eccentric enough idea, but a harp suggests angels in the clouds. Would the washee take all this seriously or merely be amused?
The woman arrived for her appointment, and I asked if she minded my taking a few photos. She didn’t. As Kathy prepared the water, the washee and I chatted about inconsequential matters–the gorgeous scenery, my haircut (she liked it), etc. When Kathy was ready, the woman sat down.
“Is the water temperature okay?” Kathy asked, as I clicked away.
“It’s a little warm, but I’ll get used to it,” the washee replied. Click. Click.
After a brief soak, Kathy lifted one foot and placed it on the towel across her own lap. “I’m just going to massage your foot with some lotion,” she said in a calm, pleasant voice. Click.
The harpist had begun playing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Click. Click.
I crouched on a low shelf to get a nice artsy shot of Kathy through the harp strings . . . click, click, and . . . whoa! Without warning the washee began to weep and talk about a personal struggle in her life. Kathy continued to gently massage her foot. The harpist continued to play. And I eased the door open and slipped out into the hall.
The title of this post quotes Heather, my very fun and funny roommate and co-worship leader at the conference (who just got engaged day before yesterday–Go, Heather!) At a youthful 27, she amused some of the older staff members with her comments. I could go all flowery here, but “God totally showed up” perfectly describes the way I felt when I stepped out of that foot-washing room. God had showed up, alright, and if you want to know what I think, it wasn’t because of some magical power associated with the act of massaging someone’s feet to the sound of harp music. It was because Kathy is humble and obedient enough to do what God asks of her, no matter what anyone else might think about it.
I walked away with a sense of awe, aware that I had been allowed to witness something precious and sacred–a soul being washed by the same hands that gently cleansed the rough feet of fisherman in an upper room.
I observed a foot washing, and I saw grace. I don’t think you can see grace up close and not leave with a bit of its fragrance clinging to your own soul. It’s a nice aroma to carry into Holy Week–a reminder that we can draw near to God because He has drawn near to us. He is as close as the air we breathe. So really, when you think about it, isn’t the real wonder that we are surprised when He “totally shows up”?