Washing the Feet

Meister des Hausbuches. 
Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles, 1480.
 Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

When I bathed my husband, I’d lean over the tub and wedge the washcloth between his toes, clamped so tightly one to the other. As I rubbed each foot, sometimes he’d say, “I appreciate you doing this.”

          I wonder why Dick said that at that very moment. What is it about foot washing that evoked his response?

          It begins with the bare foot, which is a sign of humility in many cultures. Touching or washing another person’s feet can be a sign of humility, hospitality, service, or reverence. Hindus show respect for elders by touching their bare feet in a salutation called Charanasparsha (Sanskrit for touching the feet).

          Many Christian denominations observe foot washing rites, called Maundy. They are following the example of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospel of John. Jesus offers to wash the feet of his apostles as a sign of servanthood and solidarity.

I watched in wonder as Dick’s trusted physician, Dr. Goodall, spread a white towel under my husband’s feet, knelt before him, and proceeded to clip Dick’s toenails. This gesture transformed a routine examination. The grey clinic room suddenly seemed a sacred space. As in des Hausbuches’ painting, the respected central figure bowed down, not as a supplicant, but as one conferring a loving gift.

Anne-Marie Erickson

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