Listening today to Jean Vanier's excellent conversation with Krista Tippett about the "wisdom of tenderness."
What he had to say is hard to hear, hard to process. He lives with the profoundly disabled, mentally and physically, and operates within a poetry of disfigurement and disadvantage.
He talked about touch. Touch that's both non-sexual and non-threatening is the kind of touch that makes us human.
We are often scared of touch. Sometimes for good reasons.
touch makes us vulnerable.
touch makes us close.
touch asks and answers a question about
ourselves and others.
Living in a sexualized culture, touch can be something that we use to seduce or to engage inappropriately. We don't know the line sometimes. We don't ask about the lines too often. We're encouraged to push that line and please that part of us that wants touch to satisfy something surface-level. Something impulsive. Something temporary.
Touch can also be threatening, positioning another person above us and in opposition to us.
I can't help but think of the chilling clip in The Dark Night Rises where Bane gently lays his massive scarred hand against the throat of a fellow villain, saying "Do you feel like you're in charge?"
Yet, as often is the case, there is Jesus.
He heals by touching.
He raises the dead by touching.
He takes people by the hand. Isaiah said he would (see Is. 42;6)
He breaks down the value barrier for children and women by touch - non-sexualized, non-threatening touch. Touch that gives away, rather than taking away by force or exploitation.
To touch, in a restrained and compassionate way, is to engage the drama of the incarnation. God in flesh using flesh to return value to flesh.
When we give ourselves to disciplines of abstinence - fasting, solitude, and silence for example - we find out that touch is powerful. It is necessary. If it is balanced with a sense of Kingdom curiosity - if God's Kingdom is breaking in, what is possible if I can touch with genuineness, humility, and compassion?
What happens is very clear. Very beautiful. Very necessary.
In Jean Vanier's words, to touch is to "become human."
To be one who learns the wisdom of touch is to become someone who is a giver of humanity to ourselves and others.
What gift can you give someone today by becoming a person of genuine, disciplined touch? What demons need to be wrestled down, scrubbed and cast out before you can begin the work of giving life to others in your life?