The Power of Touch

Photo by Joey Yu on Unsplash

This year, as I journey through Eastertide (the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost), I'm struck by the importance of touch in Jesus' post-resurrection encounters. 

During this time last year the reality of the pandemic became clear and people, the world over, were forced to come to terms with a loss of touch. No more handshakes, no hugs, no holding the hands of our dying loved ones. In this way, many of us have experienced for a year or more, what Jesus and his followers experienced during the three days he lay in the tomb. 

Theologians note the theme of touch is important in these gospel accounts because the disciples need to know that Jesus isn't a ghost, that physical, not just spiritual resurrection is at the heart of what's transpired. 

But I'm seeing things from a different angle in this mid-pandemic year. The importance of touch post resurrection, reminds me that Jesus had close physical relationships with people throughout the entirety of his life and ministry. No only did he regularly touch the sick and untouchable, he also reclined with his disciples at dinner tables. He bumped knees, patted shoulders. He hugged. He shared physical camaraderie with those closest to him. 

So it's no wonder that post-resurrection experiences include his body as well. Jesus shows his hands and side to the disciples, he eats fish and wipes his mouth with the back of a scarred hand, he blesses bread and tears it in two. He kneels on a sandy beach, arranging drift wood to build a fire, cooking fish on pronged sticks then distributes it among the disciples just back from fishing. 

In these stories - in Mary Magdalene's apparent bear hug for Jesus in the garden, in tactile Thomas' brazen declaration about his need to not just see, but touch the risen Christ, and in Jesus' free acceptance and participation in it all - I find affirmation of the pain and reality of our loss of touch in this past year. I find affirmation that touch and bodily presence matters. I find myself knowing that Jesus understands the loss we've experienced and our longing and excitement at the potential to return to normal physical interactions. 

For this, I am grateful.

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For Contemplation:

How do you respond to fact of Jesus' bodily existence? Read a few of the pos-resurrection narratives and notice what actions Jesus is performing - is he walking, talking, touching? In what ways is his physical body present?

Spend some time in prayer with Jesus. Imagine him physically present. How does he sit - beside you? Across from you? In what ways does Jesus' physical presence impact the way you are with your own body?

Compassion: for Hunger and Desire

 Photo by Misty Ladd on Unsplash 

I refilled the bird feeder outside my office window this morning and the birds returned. A squirrel arrived as well, as soon as he saw the feeder was full, and I banged in the window and cracked it open a few inches causing him to leap and run. 

Like that squirrel, I too have wandered roads I shouldn’t this morning, poking down paths online and in my mind that always leave me feeling anxious and alone. I wasted precious time checking a former colleague’s website, a place where my name used to be, watching an intricate web of networks that seem to be continually woven around my exclusion. 

I’ve worn bare the paths to these empty feeders of comparison, to the places where others gather that are, quite simply, not for me. And yet, the hunger for belonging drives me. The loneliness is deep. 

Maybe I need someone to bang on a window nearby. Shout, “That is not the place for you!” while I scurry in haste back home to a den or nest tucked high in a tree. 

Each of us must be what we are. 

Perhaps this is part of the reason I bristle so at the squirrel’s intrusion – “This feeder is not for you!” Yet, I feel compassion too - for the way he wraps his whole body around his heart’s desire, for the clever climbing, scheming, leaping to be fed, for the hunger, the need, that drives him so.