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Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Camino of Foot Washing

 Maundy Thursday - April 18, 2019
Christ Church, Milford, DE

Last October, I walked The Camino. For those of you who don’t know, The Camino (Spanish for The Way), is an ancient pilgrimage known formally as The Camino de Compostella de Santiago.

Compostella is the name the Spanish call the Milky Way and Santiago is Spanish for St. James. So, it’s the Way that follows the stars in the Milky Way to Santiago, the place where the body of the Apostle, St. James, is buried.

The most ancient route of The Camino starts in France, and leads over the Pyrenees Mountains, and on to Santiago near the coast of Spain. There are over 240 different routes to Santiago, from the United Kingdom and Portugal.

I walked 167 km (103 miles), from San Sebastian in the Basque region near France, all along the Northern Route, following the Atlantic Ocean with breathtaking views of the ocean, walking some of the beaches, then headed south through farm land and eucalyptus forests to Santiago.

As you can imagine, 167 km does not always wear well on a person’s feet, even though I took great care in terms of the boots and socks I wore and the pre-treatment I provided for my feet. 

Even so, there was one point in time when I felt a tingly-burning sensation in my left foot and began to worry that I might be developing a blister.

So, I came upon a farmhouse with a lovely stonewall in front. I took off my gear and sat down, taking off my shoes and socks. I had been walking for a few hours. It was a surprisingly hot day and my feet were a bit red and swollen and sweaty. I’ll spare you the descriptive of the odor.

And yes, there on the side of my big toe was a reddened area – ripe for the formation of a blister. I started to rummage in my backpack for some moleskin when a woman came out of the farmhouse. 

“Buen Camino” she said – the standard greeting in Spain, wishing the person a, “Good Camino”. She had a large glass of water which she kindly offered and then, she in her broken English and me in my broken Spanish, began talking about my foot.

She wanted a closer look. I demurred. I really didn’t want her anywhere near my sweaty, smelly foot. Just then, another woman approached. 

A German woman who spoke no English but some Spanish. The woman from the farmhouse spoke some English and some German. Which was lovely if not a bit confusing but I really didn’t want either one near my feet.

Before I knew it, the German woman pulled out her backpack and pulled out some moleskin and some ointment. She then grabbed my foot, firmly, and inspected it carefully. I didn’t even have an opportunity to offer an honest protest. She poked here and pressed there.

Then, she stood up straight and pronounced her verdict. “Iss gud. Iss – um – Oh-kay, ya?” The Spanish woman looked at me and translated, “Bueno, si?”

I didn’t even have a chance to get out the giggle that was dancing in my throat when the German woman reached out her hand like a surgeon and the Spanish woman slapped the glass of water in her hand with great efficiency, which was suddenly being poured on my foot. It was cold and I let out a yelp.

That didn’t stop her from vigorously rubbing my foot dry with a towel she had hanging from the side of her backpack. Then, she applied the moleskin to the reddened area, inspecting it carefully after its application. 

Then, she put out her hand. I wasn’t sure what she wanted. The Spanish woman knew immediately and came ‘round to my shoe and pulled out my sock. 

I was horrified! I mean, my smelly sock was in her hand. It made no difference to her. She put it on my foot and then picked up my shoe and put it on my foot.

“Yah, das gud” she proclaimed. “Bueno! Bueno!” said the Spanish woman who turned on her heels and went and got two glasses of water, one for the German woman and one for me. 

We chatted a bit longer – German to Spanish to English – in what now seems like a hilarious comedy of conversation, and then the German woman took off and the Spanish woman went back into her house.

I had never before met those two women but I don’t think it’s likely that I’ll ever forget them. Their kindness. Their compassion. Their willingness to tend to my physical needs, even if that meant seeing me while not at my worst, certainly not at my best.

It was a moment of humility in the midst of a fairly prideful time of feeling independent. See how strong and capable I am? I can walk The Camino. By myself. And, into the midst of that came the very humbling message that, no, I was not alone. 

And, no I was not independent. God, I am convinced, sent those two women as messengers of the mutual interdependence of being human. 

We humans are mutually interdependent. The sooner we learn that, the better.

Somewhere in the midst of that mix up of German and English and Spanish, the message of my vulnerability came loud and clear. It was humbling. 

And, it fed and watered my soul in a way that awakened me to the fact that I didn’t even know how hungry and thirsty I had been.

Jesus said:  
"Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
And then, Jesus said, 
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." 
We observe and celebrate this new commandment tonight, as we wash each other’s feet and feed each other communion. It is uncomfortable. It is humbling. 

Iss gud, ya? Bueno, si? It is good. 
May it awaken you to the hunger in your soul and nourish you for the work of servant ministry.