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Holy Thursday: This I Understand

Photo: Eileen Schofield washes Kara Downey’s feet. Photo by Brian A. Taylor Photography

Holy Thursday has always been my favorite day of the liturgical year.  I love the music. I love the act of foot washing.  I love the story of the last supper.  I love that my family – the four in the front right, five pews from the front – always had some part in it.

I loved that this was a part of the faith that I really thought I understood.

Do this.  Wash each other’s feet.

And then I moved into L’Arche.  And it made even more sense to me.  We literally wash each other’s feet.  That is a part of my job.

Footwashing is also significant part of L’Arche’s spiritual life.  About once a year, we have a footwashing liturgy where we love, affirm, and pray over each other, washing each other’s feet.

This past summer at our footwashing liturgy, D. was sitting next to our housemate W., with whom she has lived for about ten years.  W. speaks Spanish and uses wheelchair, and needs the most physical assistance of the core people in our home.

Just to paint a picture for you, W. demands that he never leave the house without a hat and a shirt with at least two pockets, in order store the pens that don’t fit in the bag of pens he carries around with him.  He will always ask new people the same two questions:  “How many siblings do you have?” and “Do you speak Spanish?”

As opposed to words, he will most often “purr” – a noise specific to W. that we have come to understand as his way of communicating contentment.  W.’s room, where he listens classical music and plays with his wooden blocks for hours, is the most peaceful place in our home.

We put the basin on W.’s lap and helped D. to get her feet up there.  And W., a friend who we help through every step of care throughout the day, washed and dried D.’s feet.

It was a little clumsy, his hands are not the most agile.  But it was so tender. And then D., whose hands shake a lot of the time but is one of the most faith-filled women that I know, leaned over and held his hands and prayed with him, asking God for W.’s health and happiness.

This I understand.

Names of the core people are shortened to initials in this story to protect their privacy.

Sarah Ruszkowski is the home-life leader at Ontario House in D.C. See our upcoming events to find a time when you can share in the spiritual life of L’Arche.

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