Last night I walked barefoot through King’s College to catch the edge of the sunset with some friends. It was ideal and wonderful – the sky was golden and blue over Clare College, and in the dusk we chatted and laughed much. Despite the gravel between my toes and the muddier ground by the river, it was warm and fun to walk barefoot, carrying flip flops idly back through town.
Today, however, I have totally regretted my choice of footwear. I slipped on my flip flops thoughtlessly as I rushed out the door – but quickly realised that they are not really that great for rainy, cold weather. My feet are now not their normal colour; it’s kind of grim.
At risk of plucking theology out of thin air, these experiences of walking barefoot have made me reflect on two quite Bible-y things. The first, perhaps obviously, is the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The second I’ll come to later.
After a day’s walking, the disciples’ feet would have been super grimy. The combination of sandal-like footwear with a road-dust-and-animal-muck ground made for feet far worse than mine today (and that’s saying something). They’d have toes coated in the soil and toil of the journey, feet weary and dirty and probably quite smelly.
Yet Jesus, God-made-flesh, knelt to wash those feet. Knelt to wash the grime and the muck completely away, making clean his disciples through becoming their servant. He washed their feet and by doing so he both welcomed them as they were, and transformed them into clean-footed and clean-hearted people.
Jesus cared for those feet that had walked the journey thus far with him; he deeply loved the disciples that sat around the table. Knowing that he had all authority from the Father, he still became the servant of those he loved.
The second thing my feet made me think of today is a few words a friend gave me at a Just Love event last week. We’d been chatting about coveting and comparison in relation to body image and self-esteem, and at the end we had a time of creative reflective encouragement. The words my friend wrote for me are these:
‘This is your adornment’: to step faithfully with God; to walk with him consistently, in patterns and habits of faithfulness that he makes firm.
Walking this way is not always easy. It’s easy to get it wrong or to feel insecure about it – to feel like I’m not doing enough to be close to God, or like my feet are too weary to take another step. To speak metaphorically, as I walk through each day my feet pick up the dust of the road. It can make my feet feel heavy sometimes, too heavy, or like I’m walking too quickly to be able to stop and clean off my feet.
God’s path is like this: joy-full and hard, smooth and gravelly, grassy and muddy. It’s both light and dark – the path is made up of everyday moments, full of collections of impressions of truth, quick decisions and slow processes. Grief and surprises, laughter and vulnerability.
My feet pick up all of this as I walk – how can this be my adornment or my beauty, when my feet feel heavy with the weight of the day and I have little time to stop and catch a breath, brush off the dust?
This is where that Jesus story comes back in. When the road is too quick and feet are worn out, Jesus waits with servant hands and a heart that beats love. He waits with a quieter space and there he shares in the joy of the joy-full; offers rest for the weary; provides peace for the lost; and watches the sunset with you if you just need to stop and be.
Jesus’ hands are healing hands which wipe the muck off of our feet and give us space to be in his life-giving presence before we head back out along the road. It’s amazing that we can say and know and write this of God – but this is who he has revealed himself to be: the one who loves sacrificially and servant-heartedly, with all Father-love and sovereign righteousness.
These words and this love are what I’ll remember from this day of cold, muddy feet. To walk in faithfulness to God is my adornment, wholly because Jesus cares for me as I walk in his way, giving me rest on the journey and his vision to go on.
I’ll also take with me the lesson that on rainy days, I need to think more about my footwear choices.