Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mandatum

Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.

"A new command I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you."

Baby bath?  Space heater not included.
Kathe and I have been looking at houses in Vicksburg.  Today she will have been here a month, and it seems that every spare moment we have spent going through other people's closets.  It is a strange thing, to be looking up people's chimneys.  Opening their cabinets.  Turning on their water.  Flushing their toilets.  But there is still a bit of a voyeuristic thrill, even so.

Several of the houses we went through were old homes - one dating to the 18th Century, several pre-dating the Civil War, and some around the turn of the century (20th, of course). We admired the amazing plaster work, we marveled at the intricate detail of the moldings and the mantels and the hardwood floors and the sweeping staircases.

But in two separate houses we found a very peculiar feature in the bathroom.  It was a basin made of old porcelain, with a drain in the bottom, and with a set of pipes that seemed to feed water to the basin.  It was low - the top only reached about 18" off the floor - and was a little larger than a microwave oven.  Looked like a bathtub for an infant. 

We looked at it, stared at it, talked it over, and shrugged our shoulders.  I took a quick, low-quality picture, and put it up on social media to see if we could figure it out.

My post read:

"FB hive mind: Kathe and I walked through an old house yesterday, desperately in need of repair. But we're both baffled by the appearance of this in the WC. What is it? Footwashing station? Baby bath? Bidet?"
Footbath with claw feet.  Existentialist porcelain?

The hive mind predictably replied with a bunch of suggestion - some appropriate for public comment, some not.  But the consensus was that it was some sort of footwashing station. My friend Julie even provided a link to a picture of one, remarkably similar to the one we saw.

What, exactly, do you do with a foot bath?  Why is it necessary?

The next older house we visited ALSO had a foot bath. 

What in the world are these Vicksburgers doing that they needed to wash their feet so often?

In a not unrelated note (I'll make the connection in a bit), today is Maundy Thursday.  It was not one of those holidays we celebrated when I was growing up, but I have grown to love the beauty of it -  especially the  idea that it was on Thursday during Holy that Christians were given The Command (mandatum) that we love one another. 

And it comes from one of the best stories in the whole Bible.  The characters are just so real, you can feel them.

That command was given to us, not from a pronouncement from on the throne, but from the most humble of positions.  Jesus was washing the feet of his companions, reminding them that they were to love one another, just as he did them.  My favorite character, Simon Peter, told JC to go take a flying leap.  "You are not washing MY feet.  No way, no how.  Not gonna happen."

And JC told him that it WAS gonna happen.  Refusing was not an option, if Pete was to remain part of the group. Pete, in typical fashion, said, "What I meant was, wash my head and hands, too."

Then Jesus said something that really got me thinking, especially in light of the whole foot bath discussion this week.  He said, "If the rest of you is clean, you only need to wash the feet."

That was the missing piece from our discussion.  The footwashing takes care of the only place on you that will get dirty from one bath to the next.  You cover everything else with clothes, but no matter what you do, your feet are going to get dirty.

It was at that point that Kathe put together one of the coolest insights ever.  She saw a bit of sun-faded flooring, and she reminded me about the floor in our house in New Orleans.   

The floor in the center of each room - where a hundred years ago they used to have a rug - was raw wood.  Everything around the rug was stained with use and treated with oil.  Without moving the rug, the Collins family would treat the floor by oiling it, making it shine. 

The difference between the two areas of the room were shocking - even after refinishing the floor, the color was so much deeper and richer in the area that had been oiled.

"And walking barefoot on the wood would have left a residue on the feet. And if those feet had made it into bed....  Hence the foot bath."  Kathe, Order-Muppet extraordinaire, makes sense of the feature.

Getting clean.  Sharing love with one another.  Serving the needs of one another.  Is there anything that makes a better foundation?

The three lessons of Maundy Thursday.

Go wash somebody's feet today.  Share some love.


1 comment:

Julie D. said...

This was a brilliant bit of dot connecting. What a wonderful and thought provoking post.