A story by Dr. Bettie J. Durrah
Bettie J. Durrah has served in many capacities as a high- profile volunteer in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Church Women United and other advocacy groups. She has written many choreopoems which have been presented and/ or published in national and international publications. A ruling elder/lay leader, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), she has traveled widely both in the United States and in various parts of the world, including attending the UN Conference/Forum on Women in Nairobi, Kenya, 1985, and the UN Conference/Forum on Women in Beijing, China, 1995. A former high school science teacher, she also worked for nine years as national staff, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
My feet received very little attention until I attended a twenty-four hour silent retreat a few years ago, and at that time, I was asked to use paper to sketch my feet—first left, then right. Now, I have often sketched my hand and subsequently made decisions about what my hands could do, made decisions about how to improve their looks, etc., but never my feet. I drew the corns, calluses, crooked toes and all. Each day, I cover up my “ugly” feet with shoes so that the public does not know really where I have been walking or what I have been doing, or that my feet have even been hurting.
My feet have taken me on many global encounters; they have allowed me to walk with the suffering people of the world; they have also allowed me to “walk over” and walk around suffering and hurting people—if I am really truthful. They have allowed me to stand long hours in a classroom; they have allowed me to walk with dignity in the face of racial oppression. Yet, I am alternately and simultaneously filled with joy and sorrow as I think of the roles that I or my partners in ministry have assigned to my feet.
At this point, I am reminded of Francis of Assisi whose clarion call was to do more when he said, “It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” That expression hits hard! Yet I often see and experience a cognitive dissonance in my ministry and in other ministries. An African proverb says, “When you pray, move your feet.” Our very lives should be an extension of our prayer life.
What can my feet truthfully tell me? Are they like the suffering hands and feet of Jesus Christ as he was nailed to the cross? Have my feet been washed by others? Have I reciprocated and washed the feet of others—symbolically or in my life’s journey?
Last summer, my feet gave out on me. With real mobility challenge, how would I as a woman who lives alone take care of my necessities? Several persons came through without my asking. I needed their feet (and hands), and they willingly gave without hesitation.
I think of the feet of Harriet Tubman who walked many miles to freedom and subsequently carried many others along the same path. With inadequate shoes, blisters, sores, feet covered with mud, etc., she kept going. So must I think of the feet of the first Americans who walked the Trail of Tears, the peaceful young people who protested and walked the pavilion at Tiananmen Square, the pregnant slave mothers who picked cotton for hours in the hot sun, the Soweto students who rallied together to take a stand against apartheid, and the feet of the young soldiers who stormed the beaches at Normandy seventy-five years ago. I cannot forget those who walked the Jericho Road as well as the Palestinians who dare to walk toward their home. Closer to home, let me not forget the children at the border who have walked many miles for respite and freedom. Let me not forget the feet of those persons who brought me food and water after my back surgery. The list goes on ad infinitum.
My recovery from back surgery has been swift. The recovery time, however, made me more sensitive to the “needs” of the differently-abled, seniors, and those who live alone. Now, what can my feet do to provide support? First, I must put down my “pen” instead of just writing about the issues and call on my feet to act. Act boldly. Many before me have done just that! Act like my very life depended on it. God help me to do just that. Only then can I claim “beautiful” feet.
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:15 (NRSV)