I’ve become rather obsessed with walking. In the midst of the pandemic, there’s not much else to keep my body and mind moving, so I started walking, and reading about walking, and watching films about walking and even blogging about walking.
And, Lordy, my 52-year-old feet hurt! Every weekend I go out and walk 10- 20 kilometers, through the villages, parks and polders of Holland and even the first segments of the 500 kilometer Pieterpad! So, when my friend Linda invited me to share a reflection with my amazing church back home for Lent, I knew right away that I needed to write about Maundy Thursday.
“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world … And during supper Jesus … got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ … After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. ….”. – (John 13:1-17)
I imagine being in that upper room, simmering with the sumptuous smell of food and the babble and buzz of my dearest companions, talking about the events of the past few weeks. Some conversations are boisterous with excitement, anticipating the Messiah’s triumph over the oppressive Empire. Other conversations are haunted whispers filled with fear about the rumors that His life – our lives – are in danger. I imagine sitting there, with my aching feet, cracked and worn from walking in and around dusty Jerusalem, with the other men and women who call Jesus rabbi, teacher – Lord. I can feel the confusion rise as I see him remove his outer robe, wrap a towel around his waist and approach one of my friends with a bowl of water. This is totally upside down – I should wash his feet!
Did you know that in the Gospel according to Luke there are three women named as disciples of Jesus? Three women identified by name: Mary, called Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, and Susanna, in addition to many others.
So when Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples, that means he quite likely washed the feet of the women in the room that night as well. If Peter was shocked at Jesus washing his feet, did he look away at the sight of his Messiah kneeling and taking in hand the naked foot of a woman? That foot is my foot and your foot – wholly loved and washed by Jesus in a vivid reversal of all that society tells us is the proper form of relationship and leadership.
When Jesus kneels and washes the feet of his companions, he is sharing an embodied parable about the extravagant love of God and the radical hospitality of God’s kingdom. It is a parable full of bodies, real flesh, touching and honoring real flesh.
And it is an invitation, a mandate in fact, to love one another and allow ourselves to be loved. It is the Gospel in the very real, fleshy world that we are called to participate in through acts of service and a posture of heart that renders everyone, everyone, everyone a beloved guest in the hands of a tender God.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” ― Teresa of Avila.
I hope you will take a nice long walk just to look, really look, at the trees that inhabit the community where you live.
“But the most astonishing thing about trees is how social they are. The trees in a forest care for each other, sometimes even going so far as to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it was cut down by feeding it sugars and other nutrients, and so keeping it alive. Only some stumps are thus nourished. Perhaps they are the parents of the trees that make up the forest of today. A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a “wood wide web” of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods. Scientific research aimed at understanding the astonishing abilities of this partnership between fungi and plant has only just begun.
The reason trees share food and communicate is that they need each other. It takes a forest to create a microclimate suitable for tree growth and sustenance. So it’s not surprising that isolated trees have far shorter lives than those living connected together in forests. Perhaps the saddest plants of all are those we have enslaved in our agricultural systems. They seem to have lost the ability to communicate, and, as Wohlleben says, are thus rendered deaf and dumb. “Perhaps farmers can learn from the forests and breed a little more wildness back into their grain and potatoes,” he advocates, “so that they’ll be more talkative in the future.” Opening”
― Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World
Women, you may take up as much space in the world as you require.
Of course with the right to take up space, we also carry the responsibility to be mindful and make space for others, especially when they might otherwise not have had the same historical invitation.
But, we do not have to shrink or apologize when the space we take up is uncomfortable for those who have historically, and to this day, never had to concern themselves with how much space they take up.
This morning at low tide, we made and walked a sandy labyrinth with friends on Katwikj Stand. I met curious folks passing by, chatted in broken Dutch (is DEnglish a thing?) and even learned about the old time practice of catching anchovies with a weer.
Each of us took something different and sacred into the labyrinth – some a question, others a heartache, and a few the threshold between a palpable past and the nascent new. Each a prayer in its own way.
All in all, it was peaceful and connected way to say goodbye to the summer and welcome a new school year.
There are a myriad of books, websites, podcasts and workshops dedicated to spiritual practices meant to give our wandering minds a compass pointing us toward practicing the presence of God Today I’d like to lift up a groovy little book that frequently reminds me of my connection to the divine in, with and through all things. How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith is an art journaling book that offers “a variety of prompts and assignments” to help the wonderer and wanderer on their journey. Smith begins by sharing how she herself began the process of putting together this little travel guide.
She says: “This book started with a list that I wrote one night when I couldn’t sleep…these ideas are an accumulation of things that I have learned from various teachers and artists over the years and have become the basis for all of my own exploration.”
I’ve read her list many times and it keeps speaking to me, prodding me, asking questions about who I am as a person of faith and offers me one way of thinking about who I WANT to be as a spiritual being.
I spoke with Keri years ago when I intended to blog my way through her book (I only got a few assignments in… squirrel!) and interestingly enough Keri told me that she never intended this work to be about a journey of faith – for her it seems to be wholly about art and about living fully in the world, knowing yourself and the creative potential of your life and connecting deeply with world around you. And folks, for these ears that sounds a lot like practicing the presence of God. Each item continues to help me understand my walk of in this world in new ways.
The list calls me forward, but a is also a pretty good map of my past. As a child I was always looking, looking, looking. Wonder and delight were found in the simplest of things – like the seasonal textures of the red clay of Georgia or the endless ways to play in a pink pom-pom adorned mimosa tree. That sense of delight has not gone dark, but one’s vision has a way to narrow as our bones age. I still look – but more and more I am looking in a straight line to whatever the next task is. The next project, the next grocery list, the next pile of laundry, the next dog walk, the next filling of the dishwasher…
I am aware that I constantly need to slow down and REALLY look.
SO I am starting all over again – looking, looking and looking. And this time, in my new country with all new sights, sounds, smells and potential awakenings. I plan to work though this list in a prayerful manner because I am called back to the crazy notion that God is everywhere – in the pages of holy scripture and secular texts, in the overexposed corners of travel photographs and in the bobbing heads of a thousand tulips, in the slumping shoulders of a tired neighbor and in the raucous laughter of passing students, in the swarm of happy, hungry faces in the Leiden market and along our morning bike rides through farmland as mist rises from the lush earth and even in the worried eyes peeking just above the masks on faces as COVID-19 rears its ugly head once again in The Netherlands.
Once we start looking closely, listening deeply, noticing patterns and tracing things to their origins – truly using all of our senses – well, how can we not notice that everything is interesting and laced with a shimmering connective tissue beyond our comprehension. When I am fully in touch with my own existence, in this world now, as a transplanted southern gal living a life previously unimagined in Holland. And if I really look and listen to the intersecting lines of my life within me, and remember that the Divine, known by many names and no name, is present in every person, every moment, I am invited into the mystery of interdependence and agape.
Ok, enough already, here’s the list. I encourage you to read it a few times, slowly. Think of how you might apply this to your daily life, your faith journey, your mindfulness practice and your personal relationships.