Holy Thursday is a time to tell stories. If you have ever been to a Seder, you know all the Old Testament is sung in the lilting and epic song “Dayenu.” For most in our group, telling stories is difficult on a good day. Society doesn’t readily recognize the value of work done by the poor.
Could these women understand their stories were as important for us to hear as for them to tell?
Sending the poem “Singapore” by Mary Oliver, accompanied by John 13:1–35, and asking if these two pieces had meaning for their lives, the hope was for each to share some of their story. Oliver’s poem tells of meeting a woman cleaning a toilet in an airport restroom. Sensing the dignity of the woman doing her job, it showed Oliver how “light can shine out of a life.”
Carla, a pink-collar worker from the group, responded the next day. She was at home with her children due to the pandemic.
She didn’t say this to me, but I could tell by her enthusiasm she connected the Scripture of Jesus washing feet and the woman in the poem. Her actions were a joyful miracle. Carla washed her little girls’ feet and gave them pedicures. Pictures she shared showed laughter and love. Her job became a vocation. What I think happened was Carla felt the dignity of her job at the salon and how all work can be graced as she read about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Somehow washing feet was raised to a new level of worth and her story could be told with pride and humility.
Maybe theologians wouldn’t describe it this way, but I believe her actions on Holy Thursday became her connection to Jesus as Servant Leader and her real Baptism.
Pat Pickett, OblSB
Photo: Then-Prioress Sister Michaela Hedican washing the feet of the congregation on Holy Thursday in 2013