By Rev. Canon Renee
I bless your eyes that you may see God’s
image in everyone.
I bless your ears that you may hear the cry of the poor.
I bless your lips that you may speak nothing but the Gospel of Jesus.
I bless your hands that everything you receive and everything you give may be a sacrament.
I bless your feet that you may run to those who need you.
We have now come to the 5th and final part
of the blessing–the blessing of the feet. Since Henry Ford, we are, in
large part, more connected with our automobiles than with our feet.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it more difficult
to identify with those of the Scriptural record who literally used their
feet to do ministry–to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to proclaim liberty
to the captives. In a real sense, if we are to really understand
this part of the blessing–I bless your feet that you may run to those who
need you–we need a re-connection with our feet. We need to be attentive
to our feet. We need to be mindful of our feet. We may still
use wheels–in the form of an automobile, or a bicycle, or a wheelchair,
or even a walker to transport us to those who need us–but without an awareness
of the feet, we risk never really recognizing that our whole body is an
important part of Christ’s work in the world.
I never really understood this until one of my trips to the Philippines. I had been asked by one of the Philippine bishops to come to their country to introduce them to women priests. I went on three different occasions, and on one of those occasions, a priest in the diocese wanted to take me to one of his mission congregations to preach and celebrate and visit the sick. I willingly agreed without any idea of what I was actually agreeing to. The priest told me that we would drive as far as we could, but we would have to walk through some rice terraces to get into the village. I thought that would be quite interesting and looked forward to the experience with anticipation. The day arrived, and the priest, a seminarian, and I set off. We got into an automobile and drove for probably an hour. We were then let off and we began our walk. We walked for what I thought was quite a while on relatively flat terrain. (Since I avoid exercise at all costs, walking a block can seem to be an interminable journey!) Then we began to climb mountains. Then we would come out onto a flat place again, and walk some more. I was hot and tired, and kept wondering silently where this village was! As we walked along, we talked and I remember the priest saying that in their part of the world they really lived out the passage from Isaiah, “how blessed are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good news.” We finally reached the rice terraces and began the tenous walk on them. We went through the terraces on one mountain, and still I saw no village on the horizon. I finally got a little more verbal. I asked the priest how much further we had to go. He said that we would probably arrive in the village in another couple of hours. He said he was able to do the walk in about 2 and ½ hours, but as we were going much more slowly (because of me, no doubt), it would probably take us 4 hours total. And so we would climb up one side of the mountain, traverse the face of the mountains on the rice terraces, climb down the mountain on the other side, and then climb up the next to begin the entire process over again. When we finally got to the village, the “scouts” who saw us coming notified everyone in the village and they all got ready to come to the worship service. We had lunch on the floor in one of the village houses, then went to church. I was tired, my feet were sore, and I had a much more tangible understanding of using my feet to run to those who needed me! After the service, we walked from the church to the house of another villager. A man was lying on his mat on the floor and was dying, and his wife wanted me to say prayers over him. After spending time with him, we decided we needed to start our journey back. Unfortunately, a huge storm had kicked up that actually turned into a typhoon. The typhoon was gaining in strength, and the villagers begged for us to stay the night. But the priest insisted that we had to return. So we began the journey back in pouring rain and gusts of wind so strong I thought I was going to be blown off the rice terraces. As I tried desperately to keep my balance all I could think of was how far we had to go. Eventually we made it back and were greeted by the bishop. He told me that we had walked 26 miles that day. Twenty-six miles–thirteen of it in a typhoon–to preach and celebrate the Eucharist and to pray with a dying man! It was an experience of transformation for me. It connected me with many things, but most of all with my feet!
I bless your feet that you may run to those who need you. The word “run” suggests an immediacy, an urgency to go to those who are in need. But what if your feet don’t work, or you’re too old to run, or like me, you’re out of shape and the thought of running half a block puts you into a panic? Whether we have able feet or not isn’t the issue. You see, the feet always act on the impulse of the heart. When a person is running to something or someone, that person is responding with a single-mindedness to a passion that they feel in their heart.
You know how this works: you go to your mailbox and notice that you’ve received the Macy’s advertisement of a sale on some item you simply must have. You feel that desire in your heart. You begin to have several thoughts: you think about the reasons you need to have the item, you think about how grateful you are that you will save money by buying it now, you think about how you will use the item once you get it. During this whole process you are feeling passion about the item, you are single-minded about getting it, and because your heart is excited, your feet are put into motion to get you to your car so you can quickly drive to Macy’s! Or you are at the grocery store getting ready to check out. You see a person with a full cart slowly approaching the checker lane you are planning to enter. In your heart you think about all the “stuff” they have in their shopping cart, and that if you don’t hurry, they are going to get there before you and you will be stuck behind them waiting much longer than you have time to wait. The feeling of passion and single-mindedness in your heart finds its way to your feet and you suddenly find yourself nearly sprinting to the lane in order to get there before the other person. And, of course, you try to sprint nonchalantly so that the other person won’t think you’re trying to get ahead of them! Your feet are acting on the impulses of your heart.
When we look at the stories in the Gospel, we see time and time again, that it was the passion of the heart that moved Jesus to act. In fact, the word “compassion” means “with passion.” He walked to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead because in his heart he felt compassion. He cleansed the leper who knelt down before him and said, “If you will, you can make me clean,” because his heart was moved with compassion. He fed the multitude with the five loaves and two fish because he felt compassion in his heart that they were hungry. He took the side of the woman caught in adultery because in his heart he felt compassion for her pain. His feet walked the road to Calvary because his heart felt compassion for the whole world. The passion, the single-mindedness, the concern for others that Jesus felt came from the compassion that began in his heart. After his heart filled with compassion, his feet moved toward those to whom he felt the compassion. The feet are always the servants of the heart. So when your feet are blessed so that you may run to those who need you, it is really a blessing of your heart that it may grow in compassion.
I bless your feet that you may run to those who need you. “To those who need you.” There’s the wonderful old Jewish Hasidic tale of how the rabbi of Sasov learned how to love. The rabbi said that he learned to love from a peasant. This peasant was sitting in an inn along with other peasants, drinking. For some time, he was as silent as all the others. But the wine began to work on him, and he became a little freer in his speech. He leaned back in his chair and asked the man beside him, “Do you love me, or don’t you love me?” The man replied, “I love you very much.” “Oh,” said the first peasant, “you say that you love me, but you do not know what I need. If you really loved me, you would know.” The other man could not answer him, and the first peasant became silent once again. The rabbi of Sasov says, “I understood. To know the needs of men and to bear the burden of their sorrow–that is the true love of men.”
Much of our lives are spent in self-absorption. We are worried about what we will do in particular situations. We wonder about how we can get what we need. We struggle with those whom we feel are hurting or taking advantage of us. We think about how we are going to spend our time and our money. One has only to look at the immense quantities of books in the self-help section of any bookstore to realize how fascinated we are with ourselves. Much of the time, the concern for our own needs takes precedence over the needs of others, and sometimes we make assumptions about the needs of others without taking the time and energy required to relate deeply enough with them to understand their true needs.
Long before I was ordained, I went with my priest to visit a woman who was dying of cancer in the hospital. We had a nice visit with her, and at the end of our visit, the priest asked if she would like to have a prayer. She said she would. The priest, moved by the Holy Spirit and a sense of the importance of determining what her needs were, asked her, “What would you like me to pray for?” On the face of it, this seemed like a rather ridiculous question. She was dying of cancer. Certainly, she would want prayers for healing, or at least prayers to help her endure her pain and illness. But her response was astonishing. She said, “I’d like you to pray for my daughter who is dying of cancer at the hospital in the next town.” If she had not been asked what she would like prayers for, her true need would have been missed. When we run to those who need us, it calls us to step outside of our own self-concern, and it places a responsibility upon us to take the energy to relate deeply with others in order to rightly discern their needs. Our culture makes it very easy for us to be superficial with one another, and the tragic consequence is that we say we love, but our love is superficial–because we do not know one another’s needs. The love of Jesus Christ propels us into a relationship with others that far exceeds the superficiality so propagated in our culture.
After blessing the feet, I always kiss them as a sign of my own need to be humble in the presence of others, and to honor the presence of Jesus in the life of the person whose feet I kiss. We don’t witness or practice much humility and honor with one another in this world. If we did, there would be far less war, far less family abuse, far less violence, far less competition, far less emptiness and pain. Kissing another’s feet is not humility itself; it is a sign–a symbol–a reminder to be humble with all and to recognize the thumbprint of God on every living creature. Every time we go “lower” in order that another may be raised up, we are, in effect, “kissing their feet.” And when we are that humble, we are able to see Jesus before our eyes in every person we meet.
I bless your feet that you may run to those
who need you. I bless your feet that you may know that your entire
life and body are at the service of Christ in the world. I bless
your feet that they may hear and respond to the compassionate impulses
of your heart. I bless your feet that you may love others deeply
enough to know their true needs. I bless your feet that you may go
very low in order to raise others up and that you will honor every person
as you would honor Jesus. I bless your feet that in honoring Jesus
in others you will know what it is to dwell every moment in the presence
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