Stories from scripture remind us of the importance of our feet. God, calling from the burning bush, instructed Moses to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy. At the home of Lazarus, Mary washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. On the last night of his life, in an act of humility, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, saying “so if I your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
With this expression of spirituality as our starting place, people gather in a room that normally serves as an art studio each week at Room In The Inn, Nashville’s comprehensive center for people struggling with homelessness. Staff and volunteers come together to create a sacred space, where physical needs can be met and spiritual ones too. Our foot clinic is a place where people who call the streets their home encounter others who are not there to judge their lives or question their contribution to society. In fact, the people who staff the foot clinic are most aware of the hard work that it takes to be homeless. We see the scars on feet, and the weariness of spirits that come to us. And so we serve, washing feet as Jesus asked us to do. We are served in return by the humor and the hope that we see in people we discover to be very much like us.
In thinking about why we need a foot clinic, it would be easy to speak only of the many hours homeless people spend on their feet standing in lines, walking, and working. But these are not the only things our feet were created to do.
One afternoon a few years ago, toward the end of a particularly cold winter, a member of our staff put on some music in our day center. The rhythmic sounds of Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Marvin Gaye filled the room where people congregate during the day. I looked up, expecting to see the tightly-packed crowd in all of its usual tension. Instead, I saw some movement. Two women in the room were twirling one another around to the beat of the music. Pretty soon, chairs were being moved out of the way, and more people got onto their feet. Even I, not the best or most confident dancer by a long shot, got into the act. A dance party had broken out in our homeless shelter. Sorrows were forgotten, anger was diffused, and worry was replaced with fun, if only for an afternoon.
We care for feet not only because they are important for work and survival, but because it humbles us all, reminding us of the command to love one another. We clip nails and massage feet not only to relieve pain, but because too many people are deprived of human touch that is not sexual or violent. We take the risk of removing our shoes and entering into another person’s life not only because we are crazy (and some might say we are!), but because we need these feet to become instruments of peace. We need them for dancing, our statement to the world that even in the midst of hardship, there is reason for joy.
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.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. –Isaiah 52:7-9