Last week we walked the labyrinth at Grace Commons, contemplating the burdens we carry with us into Lent. We picked up a stone as we entered and carried it with us as we wound our way toward the center of the labyrinth.

Such a simple act, but so powerful. If you’ve never done it, you can’t imagine how it could touch you. Even I, who have walked a labyrinth so many times, was surprised when I felt myself drop into a different state of mind, carrying my stone, focusing my eyes down on the winding path, walking slowly, brushing past many other people on the path.

Suddenly, the vulnerability that I was feeling in my life rushed to the surface of my consciousness and I felt the fatigue in my shoulders. I didn’t have words for this and I didn’t need them. I felt the small stone in my hands, and I noticed all the sensations in my body. I felt tears come to my eyes as I relaxed and allowed myself to feel what I felt.

But I was not alone in that. “We are on a journey together” was not just an idea at that moment. It was something that we entered, lived, embodied.

When we arrived at the center of the labyrinth, we left our stones there in a tight pile, and picked up instead an unlit candle to carry back out. Another person described afterwards how her attention shifted when she carried that unlit candle and went out from the center of the labyrinth. She began to focus on new possibilities.

Our vulnerabilities are an essential part of our human experience. While our culture tends to want us to cover them up, to act like everything is fine and we are all doing “great,” Jesus, on the other hand, invites us to acknowledge our vulnerabilities, to enter into a vulnerable space with God at our side.

According to the Gospel of John, on the night of his arrest Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Foot washing was common in Jesus day, but it was the servants who washed the feet of guests, not the master of the house, or the master teacher.

For many of us the idea of letting someone touch our feet, let alone wash them, is uncomfortable. Why is that? Pause here and try to understand that in yourself.

For me, I think the discomfort comes from the radical vulnerability of letting a part of our body that we usually keep covered get uncovered. It’s hard to imagine letting someone touch and wash a part of our bodies that is less than perfect, possibly dirty and probably smelly. And I have one really messed up toenail, too.

I don’t want people to see that part of me that is messy and out of control. I don’t want to burden them with any discomfort they might feel about my feet. And I don’t want to feel the discomfort of my own shame.

Imagine Jesus rushing right in to address and transform that feeling. There is no shame in letting others care for us, Jesus shows us. There is no shame in letting God love us in spite of our dirty feet and our perpetual failure and lack of perfection. In fact, this is how we have a relationship with God; we let God wash us. We let God nurture us.

God invites us into an intimate space where there is honesty about who we are and what we feel. We don’t need to hide from God. In fact, God is trying to coax us out of hiding and convince us to let Her care for us.

If we can allow that vulnerability, it will make us so much stronger in the long run.


  1. bobraxton says:

    my own Labyrinth pilgrimage “painful steps and slow” – on canvas, 40 feet diameter, Burke, VA

  2. Ani says:

    Oh my, this is SO what I needed to receive today!

    I am moved by the labyrinth experience you describe. To allow ourselves to humbly hold our burdens, passing silently by others holding theirs, without our even knowing what are the burdens of our sisters and brothers, but that they like we carry them. Then to unburden ourselves and choose light and possibility, as one woman described, how gentle and lovely.

    What got to me the most was letting God wash my feet! I have tears as I write this on a day when I have lost my way a bit in the fog of feeling unworthy.

    Thank you, Rev Nanette for this beautiful, beautiful post!

  3. Chad says:

    Nan, I don’t know how I missed your October writing on bullying. This is something I stood up against in the work place setting. An insecure male supervisor took pleasure in bullying staff – they bully the competent, bothered me most that he’d bully women too. It cost me dearly (hospitalized and surgery), but when I got back to work? I made certain this man could never do it again – he was demoted; they don’t stop of their own volition. No one should bully, or be bullied, tolerance is needed – no, please pardon misnomer! “Peacable acceptance,” appreciation and understanding of of others is needed. – enlightment is needed. Nanette, I respect your candor in writing, with this in mind, I write the same – Chad. P.S. As always, a pleasure to read your thoughts.

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