Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Hardly Anyone Touches Me Anymore"

Prodigal Son
I was in a retreat setting some time ago in which a woman in her 50’s was pouring out her heart about the grief she was going through. Her husband has recently left her for a younger woman, after all her children had grown and left home, and she described her loss as like “being cut in two with a saw.”

What made it harder for her, she said, was feeling so isolated and alone.  “My phone doesn’t ring much anymore,”  she said. “and my friends and people at church don’t seem to know what to say or do to help. And I want to say to them, 'Just listen to me, talk to me, touch me.'  Hardly anyone touches me anymore. I begin to think my body isn’t O.K., that I’ve become somehow unlovable and untouchable."

It helped me realize how important our sense of touch is when we’re needing comfort and reassurance. Touch is probably the first of the senses we’re aware of when we’re born and the last one we lose awareness of when we die. True, sometimes the gift of touch is misused, even abused, in relationships, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have an innate need for people to offer us a simple hand clasp, a warm hand on our shoulder or, in closer relationships, a reassuring hug.

The gospels are full of examples of Jesus touching people. He took children in his arms and blessed them. He touched people who were blind and restored their sight. As the sick were brought to him, he laid his hands on them, one by one, and healed them. He took a woman’s hand who was ill with fever, and helped her up, restoring her to health. And he wasn’t afraid to challenge some social taboos in the process, like touching lepers and other socially untouchable people, even touching the dead body of a young man already prepared for burial, because his heart went out to the widowed mother, to whom he then presented her son alive and whole again. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and he allowed others to touch him, anointing and washing his feet with ointment and with tears.

In many faith traditions we are blessed by rituals involving touch. Examples are baptism, the laying on of hands, the joining of hands in a wedding ceremony, the receiving of holy communion, the practice of anointing with oil with prayer for healing, and the frequent encouragement to believers to greet each other with a holy kiss, sometimes translated as simply “Greet each other warmly,” or “with a warm embrace.”

This would be a good day to practice reaching out to touch more people in our family and friendship circle who feel touch deprived, who need a healthy, nurturing sign that we care for them and love them.
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