After a long career in ministry, I was astounded when I first heard the idea.
A friend said, “I attended a wedding recently and for the first time witnessed a mutual foot washing by the bride and groom. Have you ever seen that?”
“No,” I said, “I am flabbergasted, but I love the idea of including a foot washing for all that it symbolizes.”
Since that conversation I have asked many clergy and friends about the idea, and nearly all were as surprised as I by the concept. I extended my question to some of my colleagues in the ReadTheSpirit circle of writers and, finally, I did begin to get some responses from others who have seen this idea taking hold. Paul Hile, a young caregiver who occasionally writes columns about his experiences with his wife Grace, says that they have attended more than one wedding where a foot washing was included.
The more I ponder this idea, I am grateful. And, I am challenged.
How about you?
Pope Francis certainly seems to understand the challenging symbolism of this act. One commentator used the phrase "beautiful iconoclasm" to describe Francis's public appearance last year to perform a foot washing ritual at a juvenile detention facility where the inmates who he served on bended knee included a Muslim girl. This was the first time the world's news media paid any attention to his approach to this ancient discipline, but it turns out—in later news reports—that he had a longstanding practice back home in Argentina of foot washing in jails, hospitals and caregiving facilities, including pregnant mothers and AIDS patients.
Foot washing as a symbol of humility, hospitality and service has been a part of many faith traditions for centuries. It grounds a relationship in equality and promotes humility towards—and care of—others. We are told of Jesus performing foot washing in John 13: 1-17, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” The Qur’an says "For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean."
In our ritual-starved society, mutual foot washing as a wedding symbol could deepen our life-long commitment as marital partners as we live “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.” Remember, love is what you go through with someone, as I have written before.
As a caregiver for my wife during the last few years, I have often had to attend to her bodily needs when she was not able to do so. At other times in our marriage, she has reciprocated. Simple daily gestures of love and care demonstrate our commitment to be here for each other through the muck and mire of life’s needs. We are not in this journey alone; we are on the journey together as equals.
When we celebrate a marital union, the inclusion of mutual foot washing could deepen and dignify the marital commitment to be life-long caregivers and receivers on life’s journey. With so many of us living longer lives, the vast majority of us will likely become a caregiver of our partner. But, caregiving and receiving can be part of our lives early in the marriage also, as my friend Paul Hile reveals in one of his columns.
So what better way to symbolize our long term commitment to love, service, hospitality, presence, and hands-on equality than including mutual foot washing in our wedding ceremonies? This single, prayerful, powerful symbol could deepen wedding celebrations significantly.
DO open your mind and heart and enter a dialogue on this subject by placing a comment below.
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The British artist Dinah Roe Kendall has worked for many years on surprisingly fresh visions of her Christian faith. Her images often place traditional Bible stories in common, contemporary settings—like her painting of the foot washing scene in John 13, re-envisioned in a circle of middle-class British men and women. The artist lives in Sheffield, where she has produced a long series of artworks that eventually reached the attention of American Bible scholar Eugene Peterson. The two collaborated on a book that we highly recommend: _ Allegories of Heaven : An Artist Explores the Greatest Story Ever Told_.
(This column was originally published at www.WeAreCaregivers.com and can be reposted and shared with this credit line.)