Mother Teresa’s Footsteps

During my senior year at Santa Clara University, I worked a job in one of the campus’ most beautiful buildings.  The walls of the bright, naturally-lit interior were lined with a collection of black and white photographs depicting influential peacemakers from around the world.  All of them are striking portraits, capturing men and women with strong postures and warms smiles.  Only two photographs are exceptions.  In addition to a headshot of the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, there are two other photographs of her–one of her old, maternal hands; the other, of her tiny deformed feet.

I always found myself standing in front of those feet. I have not seen a pair of feet like them anywhere else–so worn and, honesty, quite ugly.  I was drawn to them nevertheless because, while I could have never imagined feet like those, when I stood before them I always thought to myself, “Yes, these are exactly what the feet of Mother Teresa would look like.” That is, like feet contorted by her ceaseless labor, her walking back and forth along the streets of Calcutta where she cared for the poorest.  The sores of her feet were a tangible manifestation of the difficult work that she embraced with such love and altruism.

Most of us don’t have feet like those–feet that reflect the streets we choose to walk.  We protect our feet with socks and shoes, and hide the few imperfections they bear.  As this year comes to a close, however, I have been wondering what my feet would like like if they did, actually, reflect where I have been.  Where did I choose to place my footsteps this year?  Where have I been?  And how were this year’s footsteps different from those of the last few years?

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, partially for the sake of avoiding the pressure that accompanies them, and also because I have a resistance to measuring life by things that I can check off a list. That seems to be the form of most resolutions.  As I think about those small, saintly feet, though, it occurs to me that it might be useful to ask where I want to place my footsteps this year: What are the experiences I want to walk through?  This question seems different than a resolution.

Where have your footsteps treaded this year?  And where are you going to take them in the year ahead?

Jessica Coblentz is currently a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School.  Follow her writing on the Web at

1 thought on “Mother Teresa’s Footsteps

  1. I love this. And love your questions. To echo you:
    “I have been wondering what my feet would [look] like if they did, actually, reflect where I have been. Where did I choose to place my footsteps this year? Where have I been? And how were this year’s footsteps different from those of the last few years?”

    While this post is dated December 30, 2009, (14 months ago?) the topic is timeless, right? It’s March 18, 2011, I find resonance in your prose- for myself, and my journey, alongside the community in which I live, pray, work, love, and serve. I can glance backward over the past decade and meditate on the steps taken by my feet. (I am inspired even to compose my own blog filled with images of where these toes have ventured!) My mind races ahead, however, to more recent thoughts, images, faces, steps being taken. I think about the young people I encountered just last week from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, who came to spend a week amongst the residents of north Minneapolis, and live under the roof of St. Jane House, (a retreat center and communal space under the auspices of the Visitation Monastery in Minneapolis.) My breathing changes as I try to fathom what these young co-eds encountered doing a week of service work, learning, and how their feet in this urban-like landscape might be marked. How is their journey similar to mine (as a former public school teacher in this community)? How is any of it related to you, your trek? How do our journeys connect us to Mother Theresa and her ministry? Can we all look down and marvel or meditate on such “ugly” (beloved/marked/blessed) feet?

    Thank you for your post!
    Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde,
    Visitation Companion

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