Friday, April 3, 2015

Footwashing Postlude

After a moving Maundy Thursday service, I got home in time to take Heidi out for her evening walk.  (For more on walking Heidi, read this.) We had a significant amount of rain that day, so the sidewalk was wet and the grass was muddy. After the dog tromped through lawns and sidewalks with her short legs and low-clearance belly, she was wet and not entirely clean.
When we got home, I did what I always do on such nights. I stopped Heidi on the mat inside the door, grabbed a towel, and proceeded to clean her feet.

Heidi's foot

When cleaning Heidi's paws, usually I am only thinking about keeping the mud on the dog from getting on the furniture.  After having just washed more than a dozen human feet last night, I was thinking more about why washing the dog's feet seemed so straightforward and washing human feet seemed so extraordinary that it required a liturgical action following a special instruction from Jesus.

Most acts of love are very simple acts of doing what needs to be done to take care of someone (or some dog).  Feet are dirty and they need to be washed.  People are hungry and they need to be fed. Loneliness sets in and someone needs a listening ear.  Diapers are dirty and need to be changed.  People fall into the power of sin and need to be saved.  Not a lot of room for ego or false sentimentality.

To receive acts of love, however, requires that we accept that something needs to be done for us.  Our feet need to be washed, our basic needs have to be met, we are not emotionally self-sufficient, and we have all messed up and need forgiveness and redemption.  The problem with washing human feet is not that we find other people's feet smelly and disgusting, but that we are unwilling to admit that someone else might be able to do something that we need.  "You will never wash my feet," we say along with Peter.  Or, if we consider allowing someone to meet our needs, we would rather be pampered than loved.  Demanding the full spa treatment keeps us in control and makes receiving love a luxury we are important enough to merit rather than a gift that we need. 

My dog has none of those issues.  She just wants to get her feet and belly wiped off as quickly as possible.  She hasn't seen the rest of the family for twenty whole minutes and she wants to jump up on their beds and lick their faces.  And if they are unshod and dirty, she will happily clean everyone's feet, as well. 

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