“Touch. It is touch that is the deadliest enemy of chastity, loyalty, monogamy, gentility with its codes and conventions and restraints. By touch we are betrayed and betray others … an accidental brushing of shoulders or touching of hands … hands laid on shoulders in a gesture of comfort that lies like a thief, that takes, not gives, that wants, not offers, that awakes, not pacifies. When one flesh is waiting, there is electricity in the merest contact.”
― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
Wallace Stegner is so deliscious in the fall. I love to read him in October. He twists in the wind and the leaves. He often mentions touch and betrayal unlike our churches.
I can’t help notice that Jesus touches people a lot and is, in the end, finally touched back. He was no good Anglican. What was he, given that Christianity was not ever His goal.? What was Jesus’ goal? This terrified, imploding, morphing Christian American church? This was Jesus’ goal? The house of Bishops? What that Jesus’ goal? Clergy? Well, we know well what Jesus thought of clergy – that, if nothing else, is no secret.
Jesus touched people a lot. Safe-church officers would have scolded Jesus roundly and the woman with perfumed oils. Religious leaders whispered about Jesus, lied about Jesus, plotted to kill Jesus, worked to undermine Jesus, used systems and institutions to try to foment all kinds of lies not only about Jesus but about His followers and then, later, about Jesus’ little movement. Jesus never rose in the ranks. Moneyed foundations worked to place Jesus in their sights while buying clergy vestments. People were tortured. People were burned alive. Lambeth Palace, the castle of the Archbishop of Canterbury had, for centuries, a torture chamber two floors beneath Cramner’s study. I sat in both one day when I was staying in the castle for a few days by the grey Thames. I listened to the silent screams as people were ‘touched” there by the two, TWO torturers they keep on the payroll.
And people touched Jesus a lot too. He was betrayed by a friend, one of the twelve. He knew, or suspected, the treachery and so he waited and it came one night. “I love you.” I am sure he heard him say. “I love you.” and then he was betrayed by a kiss as the words hung in the air like flesh-smoke in a glenn. His betrayer kissed him. Used a kiss to identify him. The establishment of his day – the high priests of Jerusalem, paid the betrayer silver for the the betrayal. Fame too? A place in their hierarchy was, at least implied. It would have been a good career move for Judas. On top of many maneuverings which got him to Jesus’ table in the first place.
Don’t you wish you were more like Jesus? I do. I wish I had that inner ballast which sent Jesus into silence the moment he was betrayed. He went silent. He did not expose his betrayers. He did not speak of the nasty things the religious leaders did behind the woodshed. And that would be easy for a God-man who has ready access to databases denied access by mere mortals. Or perhaps not. If Jesus was a mere mortal, perhaps, like us, he simply had to trust his gut, in which God sits for us all, with a brandy by the fires of our love, with a blanket on his lap – no a quilt -made with the patches of cloth from our lives – some with holes and snags, dark and light squares like my sister’s quilts in Virginia. A rich tapestry but only from a distance.
Jesus went silent, “a wall of polite” as my spiritual director calls it. They screamed at him after his friend betrayed him. They stripped him. (…whispered….”Are we allowed to discuss these things outside of Lent and Holy Week?”) They beat him. They spat on him and their saliva co-mingled with his blood’s rivulets. Water and wine. His close friends were away except for Mary and John. He was abandoned – almost. I so love John for that presence-making. John was a real priest for the work of a real priest is only presence-making…showing up…standing vigil with no solutions and no speeches. John was a certificate-less priest. And there are many Johns, now that I think of it. John the Baptist who died in a jail cell in order to point to Jesus, faithful. John the Evangelist who wrote and wrote and wrote the story and knew even more that did not fit in the books. John who stood by the cross. John who was Jesus’ beloved and slept on his chest as plotting and planning swirled around him in the smoke of lamps. John who may be alive even today, among us. And nowadays, John O’Donohue who was so loathed by the church authorities for what he knew and wrote that he left Her and took up residence in a small stone hut on Ireland’s green land as a green martyr and wrote and wrote and wrote. John Philip Newell who now does the same. And David Whyte.
Jesus stood there and let it all happen to him. Pilate asked the only intelligent question in scripture. “What is truth?” And Jesus, without even a word, showed us.
And then they took Him down from that cross. They touched his body, sticky as it was with blood and coagulants, saliva and feces-tossed. Some urine, his and others’. They caressed Jesus’ body. A mother. A Friend. Some of their friends. They held it while it was so silent and everyone was at home checking emails. Eyes open, staring int the cosmos, waiting Jesus was. They closed those lids. His mother, did she kiss each one? Did John kiss those feet, caress them the way friends do? Mary the Magdalene, did she kiss those hands? They wiped that body down with water and more vinegar. They caressed it like lovers caress bodies everywhere. They touched every part of God’s corpse, cleaning in little-seen crevices, scraping the crusty parts with small stones. Then they wrapped the body and nobody touched it again until breakfast on the beach – and then just the caress of finger tips serving fish, grilled to perfection with capers and olive oil, olives and toasted bread, fish and bread crispy on the edges. God making all things new. God busy.
The sweet betrayals of touch and “I love you”s will always linger on earth doing far more damage than courageous, honest war, open fighting, honest speech. But in the silence of the Way of the Cross, Jesus seems to be hinting that other forces are also at work, busy. Angels. Kind fairie-folk. Cherubim. Seraphim. Archangels even with feathers of yellow, purple and blue – brilliant and brazen like the boas of the bold at play.
So we wait, hoping to feel even the slighted touch of golden feathers from those vast wings, whipping on mission among us unseen, usually. So we wait and we hope that Things unseen by God unseen and busy, will prevail. And while we wait, we touch and by touch, we heal. If we choose to be healed.