Friday, March 25, 2016



Last night I went to the Holy Thursday service at St. Elizabeth of Hungary. As you  may know, the Mass commemorates the Last Supper at which Christ tied a towel around his waist, knelt, and washed the feet of his disciples All around the world, the event is commemorated in the annual ritual of foot-washing.

This can be done in slightly different ways. Sometimes the priest calls up pre-selected parishioners and washes their feet on the altar. Sometimes little benches and basins of water and towels have been positioned here and there around the sanctuary at the end of the pews.

At St. Elizabeth's, they did both things. First, the priests (there were several) called up some parishioners to the alter and washed their feet up there. Then several dear parishioners in red vests took up stations at the little benches and invited the members of the congregation to have their feet washed.

Well of course I was right at the end of the pew where a basin and bench happened to be located and along came a handsome young man, his face shining with the light and love of Christ, and first thing he came right up to me, smiled, and asked, "May I wash your feet?"

"Oh surely!" I whispered loudly, stripped off my boots and socks and clambered on to the bench. I happened to have nicked my right foot last week and had a Band-Aid on my big toe which somehow made it even nicer and also, living alone as I do, I'm not often touched.

So this lovely young man poured cool water over my feet and lovingly dried them and then he bent over and KISSED MY FOOT.

Of course tears welled. "Thank you, thank you," I wept, and took his shoulders, and we embraced. God bless. God bless, we exchanged Easter greetings.

I was so overcome I stumbled back to my seat, vision blurred, and sat there praying in gratitude for several minutes until I realized that in my swelling emotion, I had completely overlooked/forgotten that once your feet are washed, you're supposed to hang out and wash the feet of THE NEXT PERSON.

I awkwardly tried to interpose myself a couple of times but the folks who came after me had found their own rhythm so I just sat there feeling kind of incompetent and useless and as if I'd taken more than my share, but still deeply touched at the whole communal ritual and all it symbolizes. Which really pretty much emblemizes my whole life in the Church--in fact, my life in general.  Nobody seemed much to notice or hold it against me--ditto.

I always think of my late friend Maureen on Good Friday and this NPR's "All Things Considered" piece I wrote years ago.

Here it is. You can listen to it HERE.

The other day my friend Joan called me. “If I hear one more person say ‘It’s all good,’ I’m going to scream,” she said. “If it was all good I wouldn’t have to be in some 12-step meeting every other minute. If it was all good I wouldn’t have to be on my knees in the bathroom at work asking God to help me not throw a coffee pot at the cook. I’m a 58 year-old-waitress, I have frozen shoulder, my apartment’s a pigpen, I can’t find my teeth, my roots are showing, and I’ve never had a long-lasting, stable relationship in my life. It’s all good. Why, it’s EXCELLENT!”

I am not one of those sophisticated people who has to turn up their nose at every cliché, some of which happen to be true. In fact before Joan made me feel all self-conscious about it, I think I might have said “It’s all good” once or twice myself.

Still, I knew what she meant, and as soon as she mentioned it, I started hearing “It’s all good” all the time. As in “I got in a car crash but it made me realize how short life is and I now I’m going back to college. It’s all good.” Or “My father has Alzheimer’s but it’s teaching me patience. It’s all good.” Or “My son OD’d on heroin but now I’m closer to my daughter. It’s all good.” Maybe it’s all good for you, I started thinking, but what about the person who got maimed in the accident, the father wasting away from Alzheimer’s, the son cold in the ground?

And when my friend Maureen’s mouth cancer came back recently, and she started getting radiation, and she e-mailed me. “It’s best we communicate this way because it hurts to talk, I can’t eat, talk or sleep and I’m living on this horrible Ensure,” I couldn’t help thinking That’s not all good. That just across-the-board sucks.

I started thinking maybe it’s all good if you come through the suffering, and learn, and grow, and are enriched by the experience, but what if all you do is suffer and then die? What if your cancer keeps coming back no matter what you do and then you die? What if you die without ever having been truly loved? What’s so good about that?

And then I thought of how they call the day Christ was crucified Good Friday. I thought of how there’s good as in the power of positive thinking, and every cloud has its silver lining, and then maybe there is a kind of good we are not given on this earth to see, a good that subverts and transcends all our other ideas of good. I thought of the thief who, hanging on the cross beside him, turned to Christ and said Remember me when you come into your kingdom. I thought of Christ, who turned back in his agony and promised, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Not later, when we’ve stopped stealing and become holy, or successfully “battled” cancer, or found the love we’ve been longing for our whole lives, but now--in keeping each other company, with all our imperfections and in all our incompleteness, as we suffer the consequences of our actions, or age, or die.

And if it isn’t all good, why does it make me long with all my heart to be… better?


  1. Thank you for sharing this. Last night after the foot washing and Mass we sat in a candle lit cathedral and most of the people had left but there were a few of us still there. One woman starting weeping and someone went and comforted her and she eventually was sobbing, and it was just so beautiful.

  2. Dear Heather, the last part of this post made me cry. Because it is so, so true....and it is Hope that is somehow granted to get us through those bleak times.

    But the first part of your post brought back a memory of an incident that had a deep impact on me and still blesses me unexpectedly. Several years ago I was participating in a small church community being hosted at a friend's home. At the first meeting, I followed her into her family room where the others, mostly strangers, were already seated. As I am wont to do, I arrived late. In my hurry I missed a step down into the room, causing me to fall and wrench my ankle. I was very embarrassed and in a surprising amount of pain. One of the participants, a quiet gentleman in his 70's, pulled up a chair in front of me and asked to take a look at my foot. I was embarrassed again as I removed my shoe and sock and allowed him to inspect my bare foot. I swear I will never forget the sensation that came over me when he gently held my foot in his warm hands, massaging it for a few minutes. I literally had the feeling of being held close by God. At that moment I understood how God DOES come to us though human touch. Years later, your foot-washing story confers new understanding on my old experience.

    God remembers us in the smallest of ways. Thanks be to God!

    Happy, Blessed, Surprising Easter to you, Heather!

  3. I've been blogging since 2003, and am delighted I've found a blog I'll want to come back to time after time. I'm watching your YouTube on writing, and blogging about it. Thank you!

  4. Hello Heather I am a long time reader/fan going to try and post a comment or two..have tried before without success. .anyway I always cringe when people announce that all is good or s tragedy or blessing happened because God "works". .I always want to say to them. ."so the poor people who did not survive this disaster (etc) because God didn't "work" "or answer their prayers". .One of the best books I have read on God's providence is 'The Handbook of Spiritual Perfection" by Philip E Dion. But as I restart my journey over and over again here in this wounded world. .I thank you for your writings. .sharings. .over these many years. Cannot wait to read your new book Loaded!

  5. Sisters, thank you so much for these beautiful reflections/contributions. I have had so much on my plate that this is the first time I've had time to go over the comments to my posts since...Good Friday! Good Lord...Everything's not all "good," all the time, but as you all point out in your ways, the light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Even Christ had his mother and his beloved friend John at the foot of the Cross...Thank you Anna D, Mary Beth, Norma and Maureen!


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