Tending the Soul: Touch Me

Touch me and see.  
– Luke 24:36-43

I take the story of “God and the world” to be a love story. I’m very aware that this way of reading God and the world entails a particular act of faith and trust - in the possibility of the divine, and of love.

There are other ways of reading. Some other readings might even make more sense to logic and observation - so I’m not inclined to spend much energy arguing the point. I’m a congenital skeptic and doubter myself. Nonetheless,  love story telling - at least the gritty kind, more than the sappy - deeply stirs my mind and heart, to the point I’ve given myself wholly to such stories being most fundamentally true.

If God and the world is a love story, I take it to be moving ever toward intimacy, toward oneness.

As with all love stories, obstacles abound – comical and tragic misunderstandings, turnings away, outright betrayals, and faltering reaches toward the other. There are risks of disclosure and perils of shame. Longings awaken; emotions surge. Physical sensations pulse.

Yes I am projecting, anthropomorphizing - and also imagining that every last thing is indeed cut from the same love-laced cloth.

So I read the ancient stories of Jesus, returning again and again. The story of Jesus, read as the story of God and the world, moves ever toward intimacy in the tumultuous way that love stories do.

The story of Jesus,
read as the story of God and the world,
moves ever toward intimacy in the tumultuous way
that love stories do.

I read about the evening of Jesus’s own betrayal and abandonment (John 13:9). The Teacher’s fingers are among his guy friends’ toes, caressing away the dirt of the long road they have traveled together. He must remember the soft hair and tears of a sex worker between his own toes on another occasion, as Peter now blurts out “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” It surely is a fumbling, physically awkward affair, as intimacy outside of movies invariably will be. It was a grimy, smelly move toward communion, toward oneness.

A bit later in another account, the love story picks up most improbably with Jesus among his same betraying and abandoning friends, on the shore of a lake. Can you imagine? The Lord’s presence, while it has been desperately missed, now could not be more utterly awkward and even terrifying.

He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:36-43)

It is a moment safe for intimacy, for an act of communion. I trust this love story more and more as I go on.  Maybe I trust because it’s the gritty kind, more than the sappy, but also because it narrates life as I’ve long been coming to know it.

Every Wednesday evening with our young friends in Romania follows a pattern, a liturgy of sorts, that provides a reassuringly regular rhythm amid lives of tumult. After sharing a meal, we gather in a circle for a moment of connection before the training time. Mind you, the average age here is 25. And mind you, for our friends who were abandoned as children, human connection is the greatest of all challenges. A typical symptom of attachment disorder is the inability to make eye contact at all. Overeager caregivers get into wrestling matches over attempts at it, with the not-looking kid winning every time.

So it is a miracle of sorts, though a fumbling one, that finds us massaging lotion into a partner’s hands within the circle. Or playing Rock Paper Scissors to determine who will look into another’s eyes with a word of affirmation. Or molding something together out of Play-Doh, or applying band-aids to physical or symbolic wounds. It’s a resurrection miracle possible only after years of traveling a dusty road together. Anyone can opt out and sometimes someone does, but not often. We have our awkward fun, and thank God no one’s looking in.

Very most challenging of all, we take turns feeding candy into each other’s mouths. What is it about the intimacy of food, and the primal function of accepting nourishment from another into our own bodies? Daunting and exposed for any of us – not to mention for a person who never had a mother’s breast or even a warm bottle with a loving gaze. We’ll feed our own selves thank you.

And so I read the world. And read again of Jesus.

On the lakeshore Jesus began to “open their minds” (Luke 24:45), the story goes, only after he shared both physical touch and dinner. Just as he had done that night before he died. “Connection before correction,” is a mantra we caregivers of traumatized children have learned to practice. Connection in the aftermath of trauma is terrifying – fraught with resistance and doubt. Trust, kinship, and intimacy can’t be rushed.

Thankfully love is patient and kind, even when firm. But it moves, moves, moves toward oneness, as Jesus moves in the gospels’ beautiful story of good news.

 

For Soul Tending

How do you read the story of “God and the world”? (Whether in the scriptures or in your experience of life in the world.)  How does your way of “reading the story” lead and nurture your soul? Toward trust, intimacy, and oneness - or away?

 

Scott Dewey, director of Centering Way, is a spiritual director and community chaplain.