These moments arrest me: Dust highlighting the edges of sunlight in our old tin-lined grain room. The complicated evening sky behind my loved ones on our hilltop. A curled cultivator from the Landis family farm given new paint and new work in our garden. An old white man kneeling before refugees with his hands cradling their brown feet.
A photograph of Pope Francis washing the feet of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian refugees—pressing his lips to their skin—more than captivates me. I am undone. I can feel my own feet in someone else’s hands on a Thursday before Easter, over twenty years ago. Teenaged, I barely fit in my own skin, unsure of my changing body and my place in the world. There, on the thin carpet, an adult woman knelt, cupping water over my feet and drying them gently.
This ceremony is intimate and powerful, even when photographed for the world. More embodied than communion, one person’s fingertips and palms hold another person’s foot. The act could feel awkward or staged, but doesn’t. Our bodies influence our minds too much for cynicism in this moment. To choose to kneel before another person, bathing their feet, feels—I realized as a teenager—strong and connective. Afterwards, we stand together.
This year, 2016, is an extraordinary Year of Jubilee, added onto the regularly scheduled Jubilee years. It is a year of debts forgiven and wrongs absolved, a year of starting clean. It is—Pope Francis has declared—a Year of Mercy, which is kindness without boundaries, love as a verb.
Although I am not Catholic and do not subscribe to traditional ideas of sin and salvation, something inside me embraces Jubilee and Mercy, especially in spring. This season always reassures me that life can return. Browned by winter’s freeze, plants become green again, even exceeding minimum survival by producing red buds, yellow blooms, purple petals, bright new growth.
Also this year, world events and national politics relentlessly conjure words like destruction, hatred, and division—a bludgeoning that sends me walking outside to watch the chickens running and scratching for a while. I need to wander, to see that the scars and ruts where junk and abuse gouged our farmstead are indeed healing.
On the farm and as a veterinarian, I count on healing, but I don’t perform it. I simply try to create opportunities for healing, then cheer when it happens. Perhaps this is a year of creating opportunities, and—at my most hopeful—I can see that healing can happen. This spring, we will prepare the soil and the barns and fences, and we will open our minds and bodies. We will kneel and invite connection, reminding ourselves that this is an extraordinary year of forgiveness and mercy.