The Footwashing

what it means to wash feet on Holy Thursday

We are growing everyday in what it means to do the footwashing.

A friend shared these words from Abbot John Klassen at Saint John’s Abbey, from a homily he gave on Holy Thursday a few years ago. Today these words came back to me as I thought about what we celebrate at the start of the Triduum.

All day long the Abbot’s words echoed in my head, as I worked and wrote. As I cooked and cleaned. As I played with the baby, changed his diapers, fed him meals, read him stories. As I prayed at Mass.

We are growing everyday in what it means to do the footwashing.

Tonight I watched our pastor, priest, and deacon bend over bowls. I watched them pour warm water from clay jugs over small feet, old feet, clean feet, bandaged feet. I watched them dry with a fresh white towel, then look up at the face of the person whose foot they had washed. I watched the humble exchange of emotions: gratitude, humility, embarrassment, relief, compassion.

We are growing everyday in what it means to do the footwashing.

I thought about my work as mother, my vocation as spouse. I realized, as the Abbot’s words poured over my thoughts like warm water from those clay jugs, that I, too, am growing everyday in what it means to do the footwashing.

Some days I think I know what it means to serve: to care for my son, to love my husband, to carry this new baby. But many days I have no clue. So I try to keep going when I struggle, when I fail. I hope that is what helps me to grow, step by step, day by day, in what it means to do the footwashing.

Sometimes footwashing means letting a feverish, sobbing toddler hiccup himself to sleep in your aching arms. Sometimes footwashing means feeling nauseous for the better part of a year while a new life grows within you.

But regardless, footwashing means humility. Self-gift. The messy work of love.

As I leave for the rest of Triduum, I think of all of us who are washing feet. Parents, spouses, caretakers. Friends, sons, daughters. Ministers, teachers, healers. We are growing everyday in what it means to do the footwashing. 

I pray that we find strength in a God of such humility and love that he knelt to wash the dirty feet of a friend who would betray him.

I pray that we help each other through the dark times, the difficult days, the threats of despair.

I pray that the next days’ journey through death to new life reminds all of us what service and sacrifice and salvation look like.

I pray that we keep growing in what it means to do the footwashing.

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  1. Lauren on 29 April 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

    Beautiful words. That sentence from the abbot frequently comes to my mind at random times. This was the first Holy Thursday in a long time that I didn’t go to Mass. I missed it quite a bit because the reminder to wash feet, to love, is so incredibly important. Yes, every liturgy does this to a certain extent, but I find Holy Thursday to be a particularly concentrated liturgy of service and love.

    May we continue to grow…

  2. Ginny Kubitz Moyer on 22 April 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Beautifully said. I love having a God who washes feet. I also love how you point out that Jesus washed Judas’ feet, too … truly amazing.

    And the photo made me smile. 🙂

    • LKF on 25 April 2011 at 7:50 am

      I think the irresistibility of newborn feet is part of God’s plan for babies’ cuteness to help them survive their parents’ delirium of those first exhausting months.
      Or at least I thought so as I steathily cropped my sleep-deprived, baggy-eyed face out of the background of that shot. 😉

  3. Liz on 22 April 2011 at 8:04 am

    My friend who pastors a church mostly made up of Jamaican and Nigerian immigrants says she often hears the adage that in pregnancy and childbirth: “You go down to hell and wrestle with death, and come out with new life.” Very Christ-like indeed.

    • Elaine on 22 April 2011 at 1:29 pm

      This speaks exactly to my fears of having a second child, esp the part of enduring another pregnancy while having a toddler. Thanks Liz for sharing your friend’s blog, and thanks to this wonderful mother and her wonderful writing for sharing her thoughts with the rest of us. I also am loving your Holy Week ideas. I look forward to following your journey.

    • LKF on 25 April 2011 at 7:10 am

      I love this quote, Liz. It bounced around in my head all weekend, and I think it will be one of those things I bring with me to childbirth this time around. That’s one hell (<– pun intended) of a strong statement about what it takes to carry and birth a child. Thanks.

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