Saturday, August 23, 2008

No one to wash their feet

Is there a better metaphor for cultural differences than the public toilet?

A pit stop at a gas station, shopping mall or movie theater in UAE gives graphic demonstration that we are indeed at the crossroads
[1]. Check the various stalls and take your pick. Traditional? (That’s a ceramic platform set level with the floor, designed for squatting.) Western? (My readers know this one!)Toilet paper? (A nasty contact with filth that grosses out many in this world.) Backside-sprayer hose? (Running water is necessary to lots of folks for ritual cleansing and purity. But I so want to know how one dries oneself enough to get dressed again!)

Hospitality manifests in providing choice of toileting style. Even in our apartment, we have sprayers installed in the guest toilet and maid’s quarters.

That the prevailing culture here is Islam manifests in the prayer-time mess.

A key tenet of Islam is ritual prayer five times each day. To prepare, one must purify oneself by washing hands, face, head, and feet--three times up to the ankle. Since few public toilets offer a convenient place for washing, the faithful resort to the sinks. Result: water everywhere! Nobody likes it. I took this photo at the Istanbul airport.

A quick google while last in the US taught me that we non-Muslims don’t tolerate it very well, either. Any number of news articles railed against the mess, the practice, and the affrontery to be so public on “our” turf.

Back in April I sat barefoot and cross-legged on a chapel floor and listened before a lovely stained glass of Jesus washing Peter’s feet
[2]. I could hear the collective gasp as Jesus took up the basin and wrapped himself in servant’s towel. I regarded my own feet and Peter’s protest welled up in me. The event is pregnant with Jesus’ magnificent humility as he stoops from eternity to lovingly attend to the stuff that clings after a day of following him, but it also speaks of our human need for purification to be fit to rest in his presence. Those weary men needed washing, but there was no one to do it until the Lord of the Universe displayed such love.

Islam requires clean feet to come to God’s presence, but provides no one (and often no place) to wash them. And the rest of us are irritated by the mess. I wonder—how can you, how can I serve as foot-washer to a Muslim neighbor? What act of grace, what gentle humility, what open acknowledgement of a need would provide winsome, even provocative relevance that would draw her into the presence of Jesus himself?

[1] At Home at the Crossroads, posted 20 July 2008
[2] John 13:1-17


KathyB. said...

I am appreciating your blog and perspective. What words can convey the humility and love of God, that He would have His Son, wash our dirty feet ? That He would have His only beloved Son shed His blood for our filthy sins ?

Thank-you for sharing your world far away in a land hostile to our Lord. KathyB.

Jeri said...

Oh, I'm so glad! Blessings!