In Chaplain, Spiritual Care

Embodied Spirituality:
God’s Gift of the Five Senses

Part 3: Touch

In Fredrick Backman’s novel, Anxious People, an older woman is explaining the wonder of having a child to a younger lady. She says, “Have you ever held a three-year-old by the hand on the way home from preschool?” The younger woman replied, “No.” “You’re never more important that you are then,” the older woman responds. The hold of a hand means so much when it comes from someone who loves and thinks the world of you.

Yet, most of us have experienced less touch in the last 8 months than any other time in our lives. We are living in a season of the absence of touch. From hugs, to kisses, to a gentle hand hold, we are missing all the tangible ways we engaged each other in our daily lives. Even the loss of the handshake has made for some awkward interactions. Surely, this absence of touch is affecting us in profound ways. 

The use of touch, of course, varies across cultures. Years ago, I arrived at a close friend Jean’s birthday party, and I watched as all of his friends greeted each other with big hugs and kisses on the cheeks. You see, Jean is Brazilian and in Brazilian culture it is normal, even expected to embrace every person in the room with a hug and a kiss. So, as I got to know Jean, I came to expect a big bear hug from him every time he greeted me.

Once the pandemic started, I went several months without seeing Jean. I hadn’t thought about how Covid-19 would affect the way we would engage the next time we saw each other, until I was knocking on his door in September. He opened the door and nothing. No big hug. No embrace. It was strange. I felt awkward. There was a closeness and warmth that was missing. I was reminded of a deep need within all of us: the need for touch.

Amongst Jesus’ disciples, Thomas had a need for touch too. His friends told him Jesus was alive, but he wouldn’t believe it unless he touched the wounds on his hands and side. Thomas knew the power of Jesus’ touch and had watched many times when Jesus laid hands on the sick and brought healing. As Max Lucado says in his book You Are Never Alone, “He (Jesus) placed his hands on each one, individually, personally. Perceiving unique needs, he issued unique blessings.” (18) Even though Thomas has been given the nickname “Doubting Thomas,” because he wouldn’t believe unless he touched the real Jesus, Jesus didn’t shame him. Instead, he came near to him and invited him to feel his scares. Jesus embraced Thomas in his moment of need.

As we continue to have our own need for touch go unmet in many ways, may we find other ways to meet each other in our times of needs. May we make the sacrifice to linger in conversation, to write a card, to say a prayer. Just this morning, a resident of Beacon Hill shared a word of encouragement with me and said it was my “hug” for the day. May the absence of our hugs be filled with the presence of our encouragement and grace. And may we look forward to that day when we can embrace one with hugs in a way that we never fully knew we needed.

Peace be upon you,

Chaplain Travis Jamieson


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