Inadvertently Scandalous

 

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.

 

washing of feet

image source

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.

 

 

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10 comments to Inadvertently Scandalous

  • Marci

    My friend asked me to give communion to our college group (actually asked me on the spot)and I did it. ;-)What rebels we are… ;-) (It was a Southern Baptist Church…and I was definitely not a member of said denomination at the time or even now… ;-) )

  • Katie

    I am blown away that this caused a stir. I would have never given it a second thought to see a woman included. You made such a great point about saying yes, I’m glad to hear that you would do it again. Happy (late) Easter!

    • Happy Easter to you too, Katie! Not really a stir, really… I just ruffled HER feathers. But, still, it definitely gave me something to think about! (That’s my sensitive soul getting stirred up again. ;) )

  • earleyml

    I’m glad you said yes! Obviously your priest didn’t have an issue with it, so those in attendence should’ve realized that there wasn’t an issue. I’ve been much more open-minded about “traditions” in church b/c the most important thing is teaching our children. I might have some controversy over my example but here goes. This year we also went to Maundy Thursday services and our church (Brethren in Christ denomination) had communion. We had our children (2&5) with us and I didn’t know what to do with them during this time. Thankfully our young adult pastor happened to come over to pray with our family, so we asked him. He felt that communion was for everyone b/c it’s a reminder of the passover as well as remembering Christ’s sacrifice for us, a good way to teach our kids. Now I grew up in a church where you didn’t take communion until you accept Christ into your life, so I was still unsure. However, we allowed our kids to participate and THEY GOT IT! Why not include everyone in REMEMBERING what Jesus did for us? Didn’t Jesus love everyone?!? “Let the little children come unto me.” Who says there wasn’t a woman serving the last supper and Jesus washed her feet too?

    • I really hope it doesn’t come across like I met a lot of backlash in my parish– I really didn’t. It was just this one woman who confronted me about it. A simple web search will reveal the vast prevalence of that mindset, however, so she’s certainly not alone! (I’m glad I said yes, too. :) )

  • Marcia

    As always when you discuss matters of faith, I sit here humbled. What a wonderful example to your children of how to say “Yes Lord” whenever He calls you to serve. I am quite certain that He directed your inclusion in the twelve precisely for that reason. I am sorry that your fellow parishioner was uncomfortable, but Pope Francis has made it a point to include women in this ritual for the past two years. Perhaps she was unaware of this?

  • Joe Cascio

    It amazes me how religion can create drama, controversy and conflict based on absolutely nothing.

    • This is true, Joe. It’s also true about many, many other things in life. Quite frankly, in this regard, religion and politics have many parallels. And, much like politics, there are those WAY on the right or WAY on the left and then a ton of people in the middle. It’s those on the ends of the spectrum who make the most waves.

  • Mary

    I’m glad you said yes, and I would have also if I was there. My church doesn’t participate in that ritual, but women are considered equal, just different and so have different responsibilities. Communion is given to all who want it, as it is a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Little children learn the meaning as they grow older, and they are comfortable taking it. The only ones who shouldn’t take it are those who knowingly blaspheme, and I can’t possibly know who they are, or those who may be allergic to what is presented (bread/crackers may be made of wheat). I know of allergic people who bring an acceptable substitute to be blessed and passed to them.

    Many times I wonder about all the controversy. If we read the scriptures we need to pay attention to what is there, and understand that not everything is there. The Old and New Testaments states some things very explicitly, but other things are left out or merely alluded to. Very little is said how women served. Very little is known about Jesus’ growing up years. But what is said is positive, and what we need to know. When we do things that make both us and those around us feel good, and they don’t conflict with the scriptures, we are doing good.

    I love reading your blog, I just wish it would come via email again.

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