When we sit with God, in the exposed silences of our day – that is, the intentional sitting, designed to connect us for whatever downloads are waiting – the pushing and prodding, stroking and caressing God accomplishes convince me that God is working hard to change the world. A long silent time of wordless, prayerful waiting on God can be like a desert plain – flat, long, barren and full of potential. We wait and wait and pass hour by hour, nearly unable to bear the silence and then, one day – one moment – God reaches out and touches that spot – without which healing was so difficult.
We Anglicans are often (with some notable exceptions – John Donne for example) scandalized by touch. We keep each other at a distance, nodding politely like a Queen or Prince does to some foreign dignitary – half not wanting to cross some imagined, cultural boundary and half not wanting the oils of our palms to commingle.
We pretend to feel things about God when in fact we too often simply think things about God and, ad nausium, say things about God so that people around us are assured of our spiritual depth and convinced – almost- of our piety. The whole scene inclines me to wonder why no second flood came. Were I God, I think I might have tried to start over. Again. It is, for this and many other reasons, good that I am not God. (If I were God, for example, rocks would be made of chocolate and anyplace south of Fargo would be, well, messy in summer. But I digress.)
In my limited experience of God, I know that the pushing and prodding God does inside me when I sit in a long-enough silence is not, feels not, unlike the way I feel when I am receiving a good massage by a gifted massage therapist whose soul is well and hands gifted. A disappointing massage, like disappointing sex, is simply a waste of valuable time for which we will never be reimbursed. But a good massage, or even a great massage, will move and undulate from teeth-gritting pain to calming comfort from moment to moment as the massage therapist moves from muscle to muscle, tendon to tendon stretching, pulling, pushing, even crushing muscles so that the toxins are squeezed out into the blood stream and released when one drinks plenty of water and flushes toxins out into the sewers to be transformed in soils by a planet designed for just such transformation.
When I have a really great massage, like the one I had today, I stifle the small moan of pain when the therapist is trying with all her might to untangle a knot in a muscle. I am quiet so as not to stop her from the work which simply must be done. Tensions from buried anger, frustration, sexual repression, social repression, sensual repression, fear, rage, betrayal – the list is long – will lodge in our muscles, twisting them around themselves like toffee twisted in a pulling machine in the window of a beach-side storefront. Our muscles hold these feelings and these tensions – multiplying them as they are buried under the thin venire of our thin smiles.
So when we pray in that way which gives God the time and the space in which to get God’s best work done in our souls, we can so often feel that pain of God’s beautiful hands pushing, prodding, testing the flesh of our psyche in God’s efforts to release our tension, heal our hurts, soothe our inflamed egos and calm us to our core – sending us out into the world in peace, to love and serve the world.
When I get a massage, my favorite part is the hands. Perhaps it is because I am a writer and use them to type. Perhaps it is because I am a potter and use them to make mugs and bowls. Perhaps it is because I am a priest and use them to symbolize God’s blessing. Perhaps it is because I am an American and use them to grip the steering wheel in over-caffienated stress. Perhaps it is because I am an Anglican and use them to touch bread, silver and disposable coffee cups. Regardless, I am becoming increasingly aware that touch is, quite possibly the most healing force on the planet. And is, quite possibly, the most powerful sacrament in God’s peace-making tool-box.