“How many hands does it take to wash two feet? All of ours”: One of the defining moments of my life.

John’s body was less like mine than anyone else’s in the room.  In that room full of people with some very unique bodies and abilities, that was saying a lot.   Everything in this particular prayer service was going to have a lot to do with what bodies can and cannot do, and how we live with that.  It was this night I found and answered a new question:, “How many bodies it take to wash two feet?”  Answer: All of ours.

It was the end retreat with people from L’Arche, a group of communities of people with disabilities and the people who choose to build a life with them. These people build a life together that puts Burning Man to shame creating an environment where everyone can unapologetically be themselves.

I knew the people in room were experts in living with unique limitations and gifts, but I still could not imagine how the evening would unfold in a way that John could fully play along.

We began with procession dancing  shamelessly to music of a single flute and accordion which, surprisingly, rocked. We tied streamers on each other, but never to hide anything in the way people do when they dress for a date or the prom. Instead, we celebrated ourselves and our bodies just as we were.

Your hands are withered?  The blue and purple would go nicely around them, if I may.   You walk with metal braces on your legs?  They’ll look perfect with the green and yellow.  Doug, you’re a little pudgy in the middle?  How about all four colors?  We are exactly what we are right now.  Tonight we dance.

We marched, and braced, rolled, and leaned on each other without any shame toward a room now strewn with candles, images and icons. It was a place all of us could tell clearly, regardless of our ability, that this was a sacred space and sacred things were about to happen here. I had no idea.

We were there to wash each other’s feet.  At L’Arche we always planned every event in a way that everyone could participate. But John’s body was so much different than mine that he really couldn’t sit in even a traditional wheel chair.   His was more like a rolling hammock.

He had little control of his hands, and he certainly couldn’t kneel before someone. The best I could figure was that the group would find some subtle and dignified means to acknowledge his inability to participate in that aspect of the service and quietly move on.

Not a chance.

 This community knows him. They know he is a doer, that he loves being on the dance team, and that he likes going on retreats. So they make it happen.  He, like all of us, wants people to know that we have something to give to, and not just receive from others.

When it was John’s turn to serve the group didn’t miss a beat.  It took nearly the whole group to make it happen but they launched into action without any hesitation as if they had done this a hundred times before.  Then I realized perhaps they had.

Thew swooped into place like the wings on the angels in Isaiah.  Two held his hands. Two held the bowl of water, and two raised someone’s feet to where John could reach them.

Even though at my first glance, he seemed to lack the key elements to fulfill his vocation and his desire, they filled in the blanks.  John, like all of us, has a fundamental need to give as well as receive… So they simply made it happen.

Without question there was a time in which I was pretty sure God was done with me. I felt I had messed up everything in my vocation beyond repair, and I was going to be benched.  Done.  But then someone asks me to listen to them or just be with them.  Then someone calls me to help think something through.  Someone needed me.

It is just as important, someone swoops in and helps me clean my room. Someone listens. Someone pushes me around when I was in the wheel chair.

One part of the Body is asking me to help, and the other part is raising my hands so I can.

I really believe the best way people find their calling is when we are willing to need them, and thank them for being who they are. Somewhere there is a circle of people willing to hold the bowl before you and willing to lift your hands.  God has no bench. We are always on the field.

 The Scandal of Christ kneeling before the disciples may have been his greatest miracle.   He didn’t turn water into wine, nor a sea into a sidewalk, nor a fish into a feast. He did which seems most impossible, he turned our hearts toward each other.

While I thought that John’s body was the least like mine than anyone else’s in the room, it turns out we are both part of the same Body.  We lift each other. We bring what we have. We learn the art of needing each other. We say thank you.

God has no bench. We are always, all of us, on the field.


This post is part of “Diasappointed with God: An online retreat for Holy Week.” where you can read other reflections throughout this week.

For mosre posts on L’Arche: 
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