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Washing of the Feet - Lessons in love and Humility
Feet washing - Love and Humility
Love and humility are the basic qualities needed for any relationship to last. Without love there can be no relationship and without humility, forgiveness and the like, it is a dead end road. As, I was contemplating on these things, over the last few weeks, this one picture of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples came to mind frequently. The washing of feet is one of the most meaningful traditions in the Catholic Church which, I truly, have a great regard for. This was a tradition started by Jesus himself. It was not meant to become a meaningless ritual that it may have become. The washing of the feet by Jesus was a teaching lesson in practice, he not only taught his disciples a lesson in love and humility, but also demonstrated it to them. A rabbi in the Jewish tradition was a respected man, honoured and cared for by his disciples. Here was a rabbi who broke all traditions to set the new ‘habit of humility’. By doing the work of a slave, he made his teaching 'the meek or the humble shall inherit the earth', more meaningful. It was not enough to preach, he also had to practice the principles that he taught. Today we find so many preachers who teach, but do not follow any of the things that they teach, their teaching is mainly for others. Here was a man who walked the talk to the very end. The Messiah or the promised saviour for whom Israel waited, to come and save them from slavery and oppression became a slave for the sake of love.
Foot washing service
When the priest washes the feet of the elders of his parish following this tradition, on Maundy Thursday, it is an exercise in humility for him. The priest is the custodian of the Church and the leader of his congregation. He is accustomed to giving orders to his councils and committees and getting his work done through them. It is very rarely that the priest is expected to exercise humility. This tradition of washing of the feet requires him come down to the level of a slave. It calls for humility and meekness to sit at the feet of those who serve him and wash their feet and wipe them. Once a priest told me that this was too menial a thing to do. A few years later, the same priest told me that it was from this tradition of the Catholic Church that he learned to live a life of humility. Now, he truly values the lesson he learned at the feet of his parishioners.
You could have traditions and customs which, can remain as just traditions and customs. It takes a deeper spiritual experience to learn from the traditions that you follow. You could call it an experience of God or a spiritual experience or an experience of humanity. The truth is “the meek shall inherit the Earth” because the meek have nothing to prove, nothing to fight against and nothing to lose. All they do is gain, and gain all the time
Love and humility in relationships
I did not intend this to be a religious discussion. I am more interested in the lesson of love and humility in human relationship. Last year, when we had a retreat for couples, we were told to wash each other’s feet. As I stooped down to wash my husband’s feet I was reminded of all that he had done for me. He almost gave up everything he may have owned, not only that, he risked being disowned by his family. A hard decision to make, but he gladly did it for me. I was happy to wash and wipe his feet …but it was not the water that was provided with which I washed his feet, it was tears of love, gratitude and more than everything, the joy of having someone so special in my life. Somehow, it became an act of tenderness and love to wash his feet.
I asked my husband (who is a man of few words and rather reserved) what it meant to him. He told me, that as he comes from a different set of beliefs, he found the concept of washing another's feet unacceptable and ridiculous initially. He also told me that this meant that his ego and pride had to be buried before he could could do such an act. He felt empty at first, but then experienced a great rush of love and tenderness, which so overpowered him, that he felt tears stinging his eyes as he washed and wiped my feet. (okay Su, there you, go I wrote it ).
Washing of the Feet - Lesson in Gratitude
This brings to mind that one attitude that we give the least importance to or maybe even taken for granted, the attitude of gratitude. From many years of knowing a person or living with a person, we tend to forget this attitude of gratitude. I need to remind myself sometimes of all that my husband has done for me and continues to do for me, especially when I am mad at him for something or the other. At times we could ask ourselves, so what, I have also devoted my life to this person or done this or that for him or her. The truth is when you do good, you release goodness into the world and it is not yours anymore. It has a life of its own to go and beget more goodness. When we recall the good we have done by comparing it and weighing it against the acts of others, our works are meaningless. You are wondering why I say so - that is because we have now released the spirit of questioning, distrust and business and have destroyed the act of love and goodness it was meant to be. Love is no business, it is a matter of the heart and is neither quantifiable nor can it be qualified.
Lessons in Love and Humility
Mother Teresa is one person who comes to mind when we talk about humility, love and service. She was the spirit of love upon this land. She did not just wash the feet of people, she washed their leprous sores, bathed those abandoned on the streets and loved and cared for them. Can there be a greater love than this?
My thoughts led me further, to a story of a young man whose life was changed by love. I heard this story about their meeting from his mouth. This young man was pretty worldly, the lead singer of his local band, dreaming of making it big someday in the music world. In the course of the tour of his band he had an opportunity to meet with Mother Teresa. This young man with his mane flying across his face looking every inch the pop star that he wanted to be, looked into pools of love, mesmerized. She looked him directly in his eye and without any introduction, told him ‘Son, go and sing for the glory of God’. Within months the young man fulfilled all his prior commitments and started singing gospel music. This was a man who did not know much about God or gospel music. He is today a full time preacher; he truly washes the feet of men, because he was touched by love. Such is the quality of love and humility.
The most Important Lesson in Life
True love is the most powerful thing in this universe, as it is birthed out of humility and sacrifice. Love conquers all and the humble inherit the earth. It was the Mother’s humility and love that took her to the nations of the world, to stand among the leaders of the world and talk about love and humility. Oh! how I wish we could all emulate her. A soul so filled with love, compassion and humility. I would not have minded prostrating myself at her feet, if I only had a chance to have met her like the young man in my story did. He said,"I don’t know what happened, I have never touched anyone’s feet, but I fell at her feet and she lifted me up in love and one look into her eyes changed my life."
Maybe, we do not have to wash each other’s feet to learn this lesson, but this is a lesson that changed my life. This lesson of love and humility that has made me whole, a lesson that I keep learning day after day in my interaction with others. A lesson that I will learn until my last breath! It will remain to me the most important lesson of my life. The lesson of love and humility, the lesson of washing of feet.