On Soles and Souls

You can tell a lot from feet. About a person and about a culture.

I thought about this while I was staring at feet, hundreds, maybe a thousand pairs of feet standing in the dust on Good Friday. We were following the Way of the Cross, in the hot mid-afternoon sun, stopping 14 times to remember the day Christ was crucified. We stopped in front of pictures that hung around the public square, while young people gave pointed and relevant reflections through a megaphone. The message we heard was: Christ carries a cross for all who are sick, hungry, cheated, or oppressed today, and in this place.

But because I couldn't understand the Creole words very well, as the megaphone dispersed them into the square, I was studying people's feet. I saw the roads and fields had worked their way into their soles—a tough layer of dead skin and dirt that became a leathery shoe itself. Some feet had sores, others scars. Bare feet, flattened from running the rocky paths, had been stuffed into plastic sandals: two dollars a pair, three colors, four styles, split, dirty, too small. Heels hung over here, there callused toes stuck out of the edges. Sometimes the shoes were too big. A little girl's feet stopped midway into pumps that some mission-minded lady from the United States had discarded into a relief barrel.

I guess I see the ministry here as caring for the homelier feet of this world. Christ did it by foot washing and set the example. The night before Good Friday, Jesus stripped to the waist, knelt like a slave, and washed the feet of his disciples.

Looking at people's feet here, I realize what a dirty job that was. Jesus washed feet that had pounded the rocky, dusty trails for miles. He probably muddied the basin as he rubbed the calluses and soaped away the top layer of dirt.

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