Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday

Today the liturgy is again rich in symbolism and music that is only heard once a year. I remember singing Pange Lingua as a child and finding it so beautiful. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and the Institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist or Holy Communion as we knew it then. In addition, there is a ritual called the washing of the feet, that I also found embarrassing when I was growing up.

Twelve people, pillars of the community, chosen beforehand (so that they could be sure to have clean feet and clean socks)sat in a row on benches or chairs carefully place across the front of the church and took off one shoe and one sock. The priest and the server proceeded down the row washing one foot of each of the people.

Was this really what Jesus had in mind when He commanded us to wash one another's feet? I don't think so. I think it is literally a command to us to take care of one another in our bodily needs and suffering. Mothers do this daily and never question doing it. Nurses also do it. To untangle the hair of someone who has been unable to brush the snarls out. To help someone wash. To do laundry and change bedding for someone who can no longer do this (or has never been able to do this.) As a disabled person the parameters of what I can do and where I need help have made me think very differently about this than I think I would have if I had been glibly independent all of my life. I really do think that we literally must help each other if we are to have true spiritual and true Christian community. Our culture has tended to professionalize these helping tasks, leaving caring to those who are care-caregivers. Perhaps after the Maundy we need to go forth and find someone who really needs help with washing his or her feet--and hair and person.

On another level, I think that this command is about the earthiness of being human and recognizing our humanity in its grounded bodiliness; being human is by no means about being ethereal. We need food and shelter and a place to sleep, warmth, security and the society of friends. We provide these things for ourselves more independently of others in today's culture--our friends are characters in a tv sitcom and even our real friends become in a way "virtualized" by social utility web-sites that allow us to "network" via images of one another. We still need the human community in all its nitty-grittiness--and even dirty feet.

I continue to leave my television off for this week and am recovering a sense of peace and spaciousness that I had forgotten.

Last night I did indeed listen to the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah. This music, so ancient and so beautiful, touches my deepest personal woundedness, anguish and grieving and at the same time lifts me above it. It is profound and difficult to describe and I am so grateful for it and for the education that I received in it as a child and as a young woman when I had the joy and privilege of singing with a renowned and remarkable choir in Palo Alto California. I will be placing the link in my link list shortly.

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