Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 35, Kitchen Servers for the Week

Chapter 35 of The Rule of St. Benedict has a mundane title--"Kitchen Servers for the Week"--but it's a powerful vision of the liturgy of communal meals and learning to serve in general.
Chapter 35
1The brothers should serve one another...2for such service increases reward and fosters love...7On Saturday the brother who is completing his work will do the washing. 8He is to wash the towels which the brothers use to wipe their hands and feet. 9Both the one who is ending his service and the one who is about to begin are to wash the feet of everyone.
Where has foot washing gone in the Christian tradition? From conversations I've had with people from traditions that preserve the practice, foot washing is often more discussed than observed. And when observed it might be annually.

So I wonder, what would happen if this practice was recovered and/or practiced with more frequency in our churches?

Here's the deal. We all know that liturgy is formative. Think of how formative the regular and liturgical practice of washing feet would be. How would it form our hearts and imaginations? How would it form how we view our bodies? How would it form our relationships with those in the church? How might it, in fact, cause us to rethink the very nature of worship?

And then think about how all that formation is not happening. And then ponder that loss.

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8 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 35, Kitchen Servers for the Week”

  1. It seems odd to urge this. In the times of Jesus, people's sandal-shod feet were actually dirty and needed washing. Is there a contemporary human need with some sort of equivalence, rather than insisting on an anachronism?


  2. Understandable - but I have witnessed foot-washing liturgies, and they are quite meaningful still. And feet are not usually considered the cleanest part of the body at the end of a long day, anyway.

  3. I agree with qb that it can seem anachronistic. This doesn't mean it can't be really effective, but I also wonder what other relevant practice we could embody that could remove the metaphorical dust accumulated from our comings and goings.

    Interestingly enough, there is a book that, apparently, looks at the historicity of feet washing in the church. It's written by a Free Will Baptist scholar, so I can't promise there won't be a rather extremely conservative bias in the book. I haven't read the book, so I can't officially endorse. I just know the denomination and the author, and while the denomination as a whole hasn't embodied the tradition as well, I know the author is trying to change that. I suspect he's not alone - there are probably a number of other random books out there.

  4. I do see that. And I also agree with KL that, despite the anachronism, the intimacy of the act and the exposure of this not-very-respectable part of our bodies to each other is powerfully formative. But I get your point and have been pondering about contemporary parallels.

  5. The larger piont that I wonder about - and I offer these thoughts provisionally and curiously, not aggressively (as I hope the language will bear out) - is what things look like to those we say we wish to reach: the unbelievers that are "on the bubble," as it were. Stipulating that the full range of Ezekiel's antics (!) take us well into the realm of weirdness, I often wonder now: in which public activities do we engage as a means of outreach that actually are received by our audience as the genuine attributes of a loving, serving, countercultural community bound to the ways and means of Jesus - even if they seem strange, they're at least somewhat accessible - and which public activities just come across as weird and gratuitous to the unbeliever in light of how far-fetched and anachronistic they are.

    It's one thing, of course, to engage in such "weirdness" WITHIN the community of believers, where the codes and implicit references are accessible and familiar to most all, and therefore capable of edifying all; it seems another thing entirely to put such things on public display when they have little to no cultural referent in the present and are therefore unintelligible. I have in mind any analogies we might draw with I Corinthians 14, where intelligibility to unbelievers gets a reasonably high profile as a governing principle.

    FWIW, and just pondering,


  6. Yes, I agree with that. Church is weird enough. And though weirdness isn't always a bad thing--because it can intrigue you and pull you in--I think an unchurched stranger visiting a church and witnessing or being asked to participate in a liturgy of footwashing wouldn't just be weird. It would be VERY weird.

    The struggle with finding a contemporary analog is hard. Here was a way to serve others in a concrete manner that could be enacted liturgically in one space. And while we can think of other forms of service for each other--mowing your lawn, cleaning your house--these are hard to do corporately and liturgically. It's hard to think of something that can be a communal liturgy of service and that isn't just liturgy but is, even outside of the church, a concrete act of service.

    Then again, footwashing isn't an act of service anymore as we have socks, shoes and regular showers. Footwashing is an enactment of an ancient ritual of service no longer needed/practiced.

  7. Disagreeing with myself a bit, though, it also seems as though the press is ravenous for imagery whose subject matter is intended to edify the community more or less privately but whose protagonists are highly public individuals. And it's hard to keep that press entirely at bay. This new Francis I dude just strikes me as being such a genuinely humble person that his foot-washing activities seem guileless, and the cameras just intrusive. On one hand, I wish the religious paparazzi would leave Francis I alone and quite treating him like a celebrity; on the other hand, most of what I now know about him I only know because of the press. *sigh* What's a hypocritical critic like qb supposed to do?

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