“God totally showed up!”

20 03 2008

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”?


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7 responses

20 03 2008
Anonymous

Beautiful Story

I love this story, Jeanne!

It seems so subtle, even menial one might say, to minister through foot washing. Many of us probably wonder, “Can we even call it ministry?”

But I’m with you and your heart-struck observations. I think the one thing that really and truly makes most Christians cringe at having their feet washed is not that it is gross, or menial, or servile but that it makes the washee QUITE vulnerable and exposed. It places the washee completely at the grace of the washer- warts, ingrown toenails, stinky feet and all.

I know for a fact that if I sat in that chair and had someone massaging my feet, not as a pedicure, but as an act of love and service, I’d be blubbering in a millisecond. The kindness, the gentleness expressed would open up a floodgate in my spirit and it’d all come washing out.

Which is why, I suspect, most of us don’t like the idea of someone washing our feet. It’s too dicey. Our veneer might be airtight on most days, but it’s a rare person that can keep themselves together in the hands of such tenderness.

I’m enjoying reading your travel tales!
-Erin

21 03 2008
Anonymous

Incarnating Christ’s love never leaves someone untouched, though we may not see it (as you were able to here).
Even if it’s the footwasher.
Or the photographer.
Heather G. (not the newly engaged Heather)
By the way, Dallas Blooms is going on–I thought of you and that camera.

21 03 2008
Anonymous

Re: Beautiful Story

it’s so true. I was able to experience this powerful time with Kathy before the first retreat, and it was really intense and scary and safe and wonderful. I ended up telling her things about my soul that I’d never even thought about before. And tho she’s amazing, it wasn’t her. It was the atmosphere of God that just permeated the room, her actions, and our time.

it was pretty freaking awesome.

<3,
youthful heather

21 03 2008
jeannedamoff

Re: Beautiful Story

Thank you, Erin. And thanks for sharing your insights, too. Well said.

Love, Jeanne

21 03 2008
jeannedamoff

Re: Beautiful Story

Youthful Heather, since you will soon be married, I think it’s time we begin your instruction in adult speak.

Instead of “God, You rock,” try to say, “O, Lord, thou rocketh.”

Instead of “it was pretty freaking awesome,” say, “Lo, the awesomeness thereof freakest.”

I know this will take some adjustment, but keep working at it, and you’ll succeed.

Love, Your Tutor

21 03 2008
jeannedamoff

ARBORETUM!

Have you gone yet? I’ll be in Dallas next week.

29 03 2008
footwasher

Ok…footwashing is easy, because God “totally shows up” every time so I don’t have to figure anything out. Isn’t HE THE BEST?! The LORD already knows what He wants to say and do and I get to be a part of a GRAND ADVENTURE!.. however…figuring out how to post a comment on this is NOT so easy!!! YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST! I MISS YOU! Heather…write me a ‘footwashing worship song!’

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