Maundy Thursday has long been my favorite liturgical day. For me, there is nothing for fundamental to the Christian faith than the call to serve. It is a day that lends itself to sensual rituals: communion, foot washing, sometimes plunging a sanctuary into darkness. These are beautiful reminders that are faith needs to be outside of our heads but also in our hands. We need more than to engage our minds, we must engage our senses.
I spent most of Maundy Thursday at Princeton Theological Seminary’s Farminary. Farminary is all about using the context of agrarian life to engage theological and spiritual formation. It’s right up my alley and I have become fast friends with the program’s director. Nate invited me up to talk about the work I did with youth in Baltimore last summer at a pocket park. We talked about bringing beauty into urban spaces. We talked about ways the urban gardens could be used to fight gentrification instead of encouraging it. We talked about compost because I love talking about compost!
After our discussion, we spent a couple hours working on the twenty-some acres of the farm. I turned compost, aerated soil, and watched as seeds got planted and soil moved. It was enlivening for me, the perfect classroom; a glorious combination of the head and hand.
Then we shared a meal. They have potluck in class. It was bonding for these students, many in their first year of seminary and still finding their niche. After dinner, Nate read the text of John 13 where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. He then invited the students, as they felt comfortable, to do so for each other.
Nate asked if he could wash my feet. Of course I said yes. My feet are not my best feature. My right foot in particular is kinda gnarly. I was keenly aware of that as I took off my socks and shoes. The water was cold, despite earlier attempts to warm it with cups of hot water. I felt exposed. Nate took his time, soaping his hands, working the toes, getting into the crevices of my foot. It was sensual and intimate without being sexual. It was connecting. We hugged when he finished and switched spots. I was instantly more comfortable in the serving position.
I was emotionally exhausted when I drove away from the seminary. I spent a couple of hours with my best friend who lives near the seminary. We were both drained but it was good to be in her company. As I drove back to Baltimore, I felt more and more emotional. I wanted to cry but couldn’t.
I processed this with my therapist. She says I have a hard time being served. What does she know. She only spends an hour with me every week getting to know every nook and cranny of my psyche. It’s not just that it was hard to be served. It was good to feel competent again as I shared with those students. It was good to feel in my element with my hands in the dirt. It was good to know that the church is training leaders in this way. It was good to feel connected to another person.
And yes, it is hard to be served. I don’t feel I deserve it and “deserving” is one of my hang ups. For that moment, I was purely a recipient of grace and it overwhelmed me. I am grateful for the people who let me touch the places of need in their life. I am frightened of opening up the places of need in my own, especially now. For now, I am grateful for the holy experience I had last Thursday.