At lunchtime very Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, in our Loaves and Fishes Free Restaurant I wash the feet of as many homeless guests as I can in memory of Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples before he was arrested tortured and executed.
I started doing this in protest at the way the church had made a ritual of it where only goodly religious people did it to each other with all the church pomp and ceremony around it, making it, in a way, remote from life itself.
I remember, on hearing that I was going to do it, one elderly religious lady asked me if I was going to wear my robes.
“No.” I told her.
As the guests file into our restaurant I grab them by the hand and lead them to a chair, a tub of water and some towels. They sit in the chair put their feet in the tub and I wash their feet.
It is such a moving, spiritual experience for me. As I wash their feet the guests cannot help but tell me their life stories and a real gentle loving bond develops.
Every year there is a story that moves me to tears. This year I noticed a hooded, homeless woman walking in for a meal and I knew I had to wash her feet.
I lead her to the chair, she took her sandals off and immersed her feet in the warm water.
“I have been homeless for a long time” she said. “Not just in Sydney but in other cities too. I have mental issues and life can be very hard. I started to come here for meals and your social worker is helping me a lot”
There was something very special about this woman, she had a gentleness, a warm smile and dark eyes which exhibited a wariness and weariness from living a life on the edges.
I washed and dried her feet and we looked into each other’s eyes. We hugged over the tub of water for what seemed an eternity. Her body shook a bit as she cried.
She then said “Until I came here I felt there was just me and God alone on the street.”
Later in the afternoon I spoke to our social worker about this lady and her eyes filled with tears too, as she had seen in this homeless woman what I had seen. “She’s very special, Bill” she said. I really pray she will find some some peace with us here in this place
I had asked Stephen to take a photograph while I washed a man’s feet. It’s the feature image of this post. The sunlight came through the window at the precise moment he took the photo. It’s really quite magic, eh?