When on Camino, normal – no, typical behaviors shift. Normal implies they must be the right thing to do; typical indicates what is generally done. At night as you sleep in rooms chock-a-block with wobbly bunkbeds, all sorts of noises erupt from the bodies around you – and perhaps from within you. Snoring, the expulsion of gas, mutterings from those in wild dream, or just two pilgrims who whisper into the night to one another.
Something that is highly normative on Camino is people showing their totally screwed up feet to one another. Taking your shoes off in a cafe or restaurant does not merit a raised eyebrow, it happens all the time. Blisters that may emerge and swell upon feet, sometimes erupting with volcanic intensity. Toenails blackened and cracked that frequently decide to jump ship – you see it all. “Bye” says the toenail, “adios.” Clearly you, or rather your hiking boot and 20 miles of hard trekking have shown that dang toenail the door.
In one alberque, the hostel style accommodations that dot the Camino to house pilgrims overnight, there was an interesting sign. How I wish I had taken a photo of it; it read in large English letters: “FOOT CARE AREA.” What made this intriguing spot even more intriguing was that the “FOOT CARE AREA” was located off to the side in the large dining room.
As my feet were veritable bags of liquid, sorry, but the blisters were really out of control for me in those earlier days, I tended to take care of my feet on my bed for the night. This albergue had a stern warning for all who entered however – do not take care of your feet on the bed. Do it in the “FOOT CARE AREA.” As we prepared for sleep, my compañeras Sue, Deb, and I made our way down one flight to said “FOOT CARE AREA.” There we sat on the chairs that were set up along with some tables, maybe it was a sofa, I cannot recall. We each took care of our feet, although I was the one with the biggest and sorest blisters, as if that is some kind of prize. We each took care of our own feet, but were no strangers to each others feet and their myriad issues. Today I find myself thinking about how I always tended to my own feet as others let other pilgrims or hospitaleros tend to their issues for them.
On Holy Thursday Jesus does something that is unthinkable – or should I say, Jesus does something that is unthinkable yet again. The typical – not normal – behavior of first century Palestine would not be for the master to wash his followers feet. Remember, this is a time when everyone walked everywhere while wearing sandals. Dust, dirt, debris, detritus, and who knows what else lined the roads and soiled the feet of whoever walked them.
Once again we are reminded that to follow Jesus requires a commitment that many of us long for but can never quite muster. It means going beyond where we would typically go, especially in terms of what is happening in our hearts. For example, I serve the poor at work on a regular basis. More often than I care to admit, I do it with a hard heart – or at the very least, some minor irritation at the interruption to my busy day.
As Triduum begins, I am thinking about the Camino and feet, thinking about how letting another tend to my feet would have been a good thing. Honestly, no one ever asked. And even more honestly, I would not likely ever ask another to do so at that time. I’m also thinking about the overflowing fountain of grace that is the Camino, and about how many times pilgrims helped one another without reservation or hesitation. “Here, take my extra socks, let me carry your pack – I shipped mine today (this really happened to me, thank you Deb!), or I’ll share my food with you, do you need some Compeed, because I have some. Don’t say no, take it – really!” These are the things that you see, hear, receive, and say every day when on the Camino de Santiago.
Can we do this in real life, when we don our armor and not our backpacks, when we adjust the fit of our pride, making sure our humility is not visible? So often for us Christians it may seem better for us to help others but not allow anyone to help us. In fact we make a big deal about those who “accept help.” I don’t know about you, but I grew up hearing “God helps those who help themselves.” That is one big, fat lie if I ever heard one. No – God helps everyone and we do not accept that help, then the loss is our own.
God in the form of Jesus Christ is here to not only serve us, but to teach us. Teach us to serve and teach us to be served – no doubt the harder part. This Easter my prayer is for me to spend more time in the “FOOT CARE AREA” of my heart, working not on my own feet, but on the feet of others, but more importantly, as others take care of my ugly, blistered, bunioned feet. It is hard to imagine, but on the Camino of life with Christ, it is the only way.
It is time to get on the path, follow The Way, and go there, to the “FOOT CARE AREA.” Will you join me?