Ash Wednesday & #AwkwardTuesday

This week our Community Group celebrated #AwkwardTuesday in Fat Tuesday style.  Folks brought Po’ Boys, King’s cake, Corn Bread, Jambalaya, the works.   It was quite a feast.  And then we moved our circle from around the kitchen table to around the coffee table and welcomed the Lenten season by washing one another’s feet.

This is pretty much the definition of awkward. When I told the group what we’d be doing, there was a collective cringe.  American culture isn’t accustomed to physical touch.  If we do touch each other, it’s the Bro Hug (clap those rights hands together, fellas, and bring it in for the left-handed one-two back pat) or the occasional female hug that lasts maybe 2-3 seconds, tops.  We mean well, I think, but this is all we really know how to do.

When I was working as a birth doula, this was, by far, the most challenging aspect for me when I first started.  Not foot washing, but the component of physical touch.  Which presented a significant challenge as it is one of the primary things you do when you are supporting a laboring woman.  You touch her.  You rub her calves or her shoulders or her back.  Despite my training and preparation, I found the initiating of it to be extremely awkward in my early months of doula-ing.  But across the board, with nearly no exceptions, the response when I would take my hands away was, “more, please.”

Some churches consider foot washing a sacrament, lined up beside marriage and baptism and communion.  A sacrament is considered an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.  We read the section of John 13 where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and then paired everyone off, gave them bowls of soapy warm water, a few towels and instructions not to rush through it, even though we all feel, understandably, sorta awkward.

So we went for it.  I think we were all a tad relieved when it was over, truth be told.  Some folks mentioned the mild anxiety that it produced and the concern that they were “doing it wrong.”   Others said it felt strange to be touched in this way.  But it was good in the way that awkward things can be good sometimes.  Like sitting with someone who is grieving.  It feels hard and strange and you don’t know what to do or say but it’s still… good, somehow, to be in that space.  Not to say that wiping someone’s feet with my kids’ old cloth diapers is really all that sacred, but it’s good practice for touching and receiving touch, and I’m glad we did it.

Seeing for Lent

We finished the night discussing the upcoming season of Lent and what, if any, practices we would like to take on or off in our daily lives in the days leading up to Easter.  I shared this passage from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, as it’s what I’m hoping to practice in particular these next 40 days.  Seeing.

     When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find.  IT was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since.  For some reason I always ‘hid’ the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street.  I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hold left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk.  Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions.  After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY.  I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe.  But I never lurked about.  I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hid another penny…

     … I’ve been thinking about seeing.  There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises.  The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand.  But– and this is the point– who gets excited by a mere penny?  If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight of a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way?  It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny.  But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.

-Annie Dillard

How will I do this seeing?  I must first, I think, let the empty spaces in my day be that: empty.  I need not rush to fill them with mindless scrolling or looking at endless loops of news in the interest of “staying informed.”  I will not shirk from quietude but nourish and make space for it.

And I will pay attention to my kids who, with regularity, see things that I do not.  The other day I was outside with my youngest, Isaiah, and he saw a “penny.”   He immediately said, “Mama, look!” and pointed at the newly formed buds on our cherry blossom tree.  They were beautiful.