Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Holy Days

Maundy Thursday

Stripping Away

April 9, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

As we approach Maundy Thursday, I’ve been reflecting about how the stripping of the altar is a powerful symbol of what’s happening in our world right now.



Education & Communication

Painting with Feet

Meredith Magee Donnelly

Homegrown Friends

An article about how to teach children to paint with their feet.

Notice how the author followed the children's lead, finishing "when they were done."

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Arts & Architecture

Painting With Her Feet, an Artist ‘Expresses Who I Am’

Jonathan Wolfe

New York Times

Story of Columbian born artist Linda Riveros, born with no arms, who learned to paint with her feet.

Notice how the artist's sense of self shifts as she gets in touch with herself as artist.

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What is the dark gift you find when the familiar is stripped away?


On this night we call Maundy Thursday we see how complex our relationships can be.

An intimate meal, the tender washing of feet, the foreshadowing of betrayal, the fear of immanent danger. All this is present around the table of Jesus' Passover meal with his friends.

What is it that holds this night together? What is the glue?

Stripping. Stripping is the glue.

When we strip the altar in the Maundy Thursday liturgy as our last act before we head into the crucifixion, we strip away every single support and prop we know—all the noble and good ones, and all our worst ones, too. Naked, stripped, bare.


The stripping of the altar happens one cloth, one book, one chalice at a time. Each item removed is like a piece of us being stripped. A need for revenge, a grudge held, a grief that consumes us, a love to which we cling, a hope unexpressed. One by one, we see them stripped away. Until there is nothing left.

Presently, this stripping is our reality. One freedom, one trip, one financial security, one loved one’s fragile health at a time.

Here we are. In this Maundy Thursday. The altar that is our life is being stripped bare.

Tonight, in our homes, amid bare feet and candle lit meals at our own tables, we face into the most frightening and real Good Friday some of us have ever known.

What is the invitation in this experience of being stripped of so much of what we know to constitute our normal lives?

Could it be to enter the place of not knowing? The place where there is space, at last, to come face to face with ourselves–with our grief, with our sin, with our participation in the suffering of others? Face to face with our anger, with our deep losses? Face to face with our fears about what might become of us…or not become of us?

No matter what we want to control, we are clearly unable to control events in our world or in our lives any more than Jesus could control those who led him to the cross.

The way of Christ has nothing to do with control and everything to do with opening. By opening, I mean a deep spiritual capacity to be with ourselves and others. Simply to be.

Opening begins in the places where we are stripped bare.

I’ve chosen two lessons about painting with feet for this proper. In the education and communication lesson, painting with bare feet is an activity a childhood educator uses to help open children and free them from inhibitions. In the arts and architecture lesson, we learn about a Columbian born artist born without arms who learned to paint with her feet and found in that work a way to open her own life to herself and to the world.

In our barren places the things we would like to rely upon are not present. There is instead emptiness. For many of us, we spend much time relying on things that have become assumed, automatic to us. And so, this place of emptiness remains in the background. We access it as head knowledge, but we have trouble finding it experientially. But now, now is different. Now, we have been stripped bare. Now, this year, in this pandemic, the world knows the emptiness.

In that emptiness, amid terrifying loss and grief, the seed of every love worth knowing, every courage worth possessing waits to grow. Stripped of all our carefully constructed armor, we have room to open. And as we open, the seed can grow.

Now, in our emptiness, is the time to know. To know what you know, see what you see. Not just with your mind, but with your body and your heart as well. From that knowing, the truest responses can begin.

In the midst of being stripped bare, we have the possibility to dive beneath all the wounds we carry and all the guilt we carry. We can dive beneath the stories that hold us back and find beneath it all, the seed of our true nature.

Poet John O’Donohue, in the end of his poem, “For Someone Who Did You Wrong,” says this about the seed that can take root when we allow ourselves to move from hurt through openness into true compassion:

Now a new kindness

Seems to have entered time

And I can see how that hurt [that you shaped]

Has schooled my heart

In a compassion I would

Otherwise have never learned.

Somehow now

I have begun to glimpse

The unexpected fruit

Your dark gift had planted

And I thank you

For your unknown work. –John O’Donohue

No one wants to to experience the pain that leads to the dark gifts O’Donohue names. Yet, as we watch each item removed, every chalice, book and cloth–every freedom to go where we want and assemble with whom we want, every security and protection from illness and harm–God works with us to catch a glimpse of what lies beneath all the things that usually define us.

When the lights go out and there is nothing but emptiness, may we give thanks for the unexpected fruit planted in us by the dark gift hidden in these days. As we set our faces toward Gethsemane, may we find a way to say thank you for the unknown work that brings compassion.