Have you ever encountered something that you didn’t even know was a “thing” and, all of a sudden, found yourself making waves totally unintentionally? It’s a bizarre feeling, really. I mean, there are times when we say or do something and, frankly, we KNOW people are likely to get riled up, but we make the choice anyway.
This was not one of those times.
My littlest heard, at the Tuesday morning Mass, that they would be washing feet at the Feast of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. To say the least, she was intrigued. To be clear, she really, really wanted to have her own feet washed.
“Do they wash girls’ feet, Mommy?” she asked me, innocently.
Now, in asking the question, she was really asking if they washed the feet of little girls– children. (And they do not, for the record.) She was not actually making any gender-based inquiry. But her words made me wonder…
Did they wash female feet?
I wasn’t sure, so I did what anyone wondering such a thing at 4:30AM would do– I googled it.
And you know what I found out? Holy mackerel, is there ever a lot of debate on this one! There were pages upon pages dedicated to why it was either okay or sacrilege for women to have their feet washed by pastors. Seriously, it blew my mind. I really couldn’t find any set-in-stone guidelines, so I finally just gave up and closed the window.
Still, I thought about it. I wondered what our church did. To be honest, I had never made it to the Holy Thursday Mass there because that’s the night my husband works late and, previously, my children were really too young to make it until close to 9PM.
Our church is rather traditional and formal in most of our doings. We do the incense, the holy water, the adorations, the venerations, the kneeling, the bowing, the prayers, the invocations, and we never miss a feast day. There are girls in chapel veils (and also those in super cut-off shorts– we run the gamut) and rosaries wrapped around many a hand.
Yet, we’re also pretty progressive. Women have a very high and honored place there. They lead ministries– and not just children’s ministries– I’ve never been treated as “less”, nor been made to feel that I didn’t belong someplace.
So, to be honest, I didn’t know what we did. And I decided I didn’t really care. I wasn’t going to lose sleep over it. If they chose only men, as a matter of tradition? No problem. If women were invited into the mix? That was cool, too. I truly didn’t have strong feelings about it.
This year, my kids were all very interested in attending the Feast of the Last Supper. So, we went.
I wound up being one of the twelve called forward for the washing of the feet.
After the fact, I mentioned it on Facebook and to a couple people in real life. And, of course, the people who were there saw me. Honestly, it was a deep and meaningful experience and I was grateful for it.
Until I found myself in the middle of a maelstrom of controversy.
I received a couple of Facebook private messages. I also got an email. And, of course, there was the radio silence. Finally, I pulled the post, not wanting to offend anyone.
And then a fellow parishioner approached me later in the weekend.
“I just don’t really understand why you did it. I would simply have politely declined. I mean– it’s just not appropriate. Honestly, I had to look away when the priest got to you. I was that uncomfortable with it.”
Her words surprised me. They also troubled me. And, admittedly, they puzzled me a bit, too. For I hadn’t detected that discomfort prior to her confession. Not from the college-aged guy to my left. Not from the elderly man to my right. Not from our 70-something-year-old deacon, standing with towels. Not from our priest.
But her words echoed through my thoughts: “I just don’t understand why you did it.”
Well, to answer that, I have to back up, just a bit…
Thursday night, I, along with my children, walked into the church. We were almost immediately approached. A lector asked my son if he’d be willing to serve, because they really needed another altar server.
He nodded, and said, “Yes.”
Our deacon hugged my little girls, then turned to me, “I want to ask you– would you be willing to be among our twelve? Would you let us wash your feet?”
I looked up at this leader of our church… and I said yes.
It’s the same thing I would have said if he’d asked me to launder the towels following the celebration. It’s the same thing I would have said if I’d been asked to help bring up the gifts. It’s the same thing I would have said if I’d been asked to give up our seats for someone else.
I said yes.
I later sat on the steps of the altar and I listened to the choir’s swelling refrain. I could smell the lingering incense and the shadows from the flickering candlelight played over my hair. And, as Father knelt before me, pouring water over my foot, he looked up at me and said, softly and simply,
“Thank you for saying yes.”
I said yes.
And I would say it again. Even if I was inadvertently scandalous.