Rebuilding New Orleans

By guest blogger Jayne Pickett  

This past week I journeyed with a group of women discerning a call to religious life. We traveled to New Orleans for a week of service at a ministry called The Rebuild Center, a collaborate effort by the Presentation Sisters, Jesuits and Vincentians.   No, our ministry was not carpentry or plumbing, but rather helping rebuild lives by serving some of the most neglected on the streets of New Orleans—the homeless.

Several in our group were nurses and some were trained in healing touch. These women set up a massage and foot washing area for The RebuildCenter’s guests.  Those of us in the group, like me, not trained in the medical field were given a crash course on healing touch and were invited to partake.   

Honestly I was feeling uncomfortable with this invitation.  Massaging another person is rather intimate and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of intimacy with a homeless person.  And just the thought of touching another’s dirty feet made me feel nauseated.  I avoided the invitation by sticking in the kitchen to help prepare the meals.  However, every day I heard this nagging voice inside me say, “You should try it, look at the other women who are courageous enough to try it.”  I would go peek in on the stations, but fear and the waves of nausea stopped me.  I told the inner voice, “I can’t do it.” 

Being in the Lenten season, the symbolic nature of the foot washing was not lost on me, and I was plagued with guilt of not being able to muster enough courage to serve these vulnerable men and women in this way.  I felt like the rich young men of scripture whom Jesus told to sell their possessions and follow him.  I walked away sad, feeling as though I was failing Jesus. 

I wanted the courage to lovingly be able to enter into the foot washing ministry. I kept praying during the week that I would feel called and would have the courage to respond yes.  On our final day in New Orleans Molly, one of my companions, asked if I was ready.  Surprisingly, I said “Yes I think I can do it.”   I suggested I watch her technique with one guest first and then jump in (I was really stalling for time).  My face was hot and flush when I said this and she suggested I sit down and breathe deep. I watched Molly pray over her guest’s feet then gently and tenderly wash, massage and slip on new socks. Molly and the guest engaged in personal conversation all the while the man was getting his feet massaged, at one point he stopped in mid conversation, lost his train of thought and was swept away by the loving touch of Molly.  I was witnessing a sacramental encounter. 

After watching Molly I had enough courage to serve the next guest on the list who wanted a foot washing.  I followed Molly’s example and with the grace of God was able to enter as deeply into the experience as Molly. 

Jayne washing a guest's feet
Here I am, embracing the washing of the feet.

I was humbled and blessed in this simple act of love.  I understand the profound message of Jesus in the scriptures as he washed the disciples’ feet, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet… Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:14-17)  In the voice of the Spirit that came through Molly, and in the reciprocated love and trust of the homeless of the Rebuild Center, I know I am blessed.

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