Walking in Faith
How Lovely are the Feet
When the local newspaper did a story on my pilgrimage after I returned, it included a picture of my one badly blistered foot. That photo attracted as much commentary as anything else in the article. When I show slides of my journey, that particular picture always elicits strong visceral responses. People are caught off-guard by such glaring attention to a part of the body we often overlook or even hide. That picture sparked thousands of words.
Feet got a lot of attention on the Camino. I have not spoken as much about that part of my body in over four dozen years of life as I did in those thirty-one days. Pilgrims discussed muscle pains, tendonitis, socks and footwear. In the past I have not always fully appreciated my wife's eagerness to describe her latest experiences as an operating room nurse — especially not over dinner! — but on the Camino I and others keenly detailed our most recent physical symptoms. We often compared theories on blisters and their prevention and treatment. Nothing seemed guaranteed. Even experienced hikers Carole, Eléanor or Wendy — who had trekked Nepal, Mongolia and the Appalachian Trail — got them. It was not uncommon to comment on sprains, sores and even blister leakage while sharing a meal. One day an unlikely looking pilgrim, a twenty-something American woman who carried herself like a model, caught me off-guard by asking for counsel: "What do you recommend for treating an open wound where I accidentally tore off all my skin?"
In restaurants, pilgrims casually pulled off muddy shoes and smelly socks and matter-of-factly examined aching feet, while enjoying whatever food or drink that establishment offered. As I've said, rules were different on the Camino.
Somewhere along the way, our culture grew embarrassed about, perhaps even ashamed of, feet. When I went to pastor my last congregation, I could not understand why they were proud of being one of the first area churches to abandon a centuries-old Mennonite ritual of footwashing. I tried to reintroduce this sacrament but encountered resistance. The church I now attend still practices footwashing twice a year, but many members elect not to participate; they vote without their feet, as it were.
Compared to Bible times, our feet are pampered with better footwear and options of pedicures and by the fact that we hardly use them. (Statistics suggest that Americans walk just a few hundred yards a day, less than a mile and a half a week.) Perhaps we're ashamed of our feet because we do not put them to the good purpose for which they are intended.
On the Camino I grew increasingly aware of how much press feet get in the Bible. Think of the attention to their anointing. Or the footwashing that Jesus initiated. Because that culture was used to walking, often long distances in hot weather with relatively poor footwear, it is no surprise that this part of the body receives so much scriptural exposure.
I learned to treat my feet with lotion before, during and after hikes. I liked this. I felt as if I was anointing and honoring them. And they surely deserved it. They had worked hard and accomplished much. They were worthy of wonder. As Thich Nhat Hanh often observes: not only walking on water is a marvel, even walking on the earth is a miracle.
Thank God, then, for feet!
A favorite verse in Isaiah reads:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." (Isaiah 52:7)