‘No, you can’t keep it, its a dead duck!!’
Don’t you find yourself saying the oddest things sometimes as a parent. Found myself needing this rather unexpected sentence on a family day trip looking round a National Trust property. They had used taxidermy game birds and rabbits to ‘bring the kitchen to life’ and B (our oldest) had got more than a bit mesmerized by the feel of the duck’s soft feathers, so much so that I’m sure we provided a fair amount of entertainment as we did everything we could think of to try and move her on to the next room on the tour. B has always needed to touch, she craves the sensory input. ‘Look with your eyes, not your fingers’ was a well used mantra when shopping, or in other people’s houses when she was younger – with limited success!
It can quite often be the opposite experience though with all my children, some things just can’t be touched… not always predictable, differing depending on context or stress levels, sometimes its ‘dirt’, sometimes clothes that are too ‘scratchy’ or ‘shiny’ – I have a particular pair of trousers that B in particular can’t stand, no chance of her climbing onto my knee when I’m wearing those – or it can be certain food textures that can’t be touched at all. Of course the impact of touch doesn’t stop there, there are often extreme reactions to being touched too, sometimes needing hugs so very squeezy, or to press their face up against mine so much its as if they’ve quite forgotten the basic need to breathe – other times being overloaded just by the suggestion of being touched, just being looked at feels too much, someone sitting down too near, or walking past too close, or at its worst walking towards them to help in some way gets the response ‘DON’T TOUCH ME!!!’. At either extreme touch can be a tricky business.
I’ve been asking myself how to begin translating the language of touch that we often find ourselves using about God. ‘We all need God’s touch’, ‘pray for someone who needs to feel God’s touch right now’, ‘I pray that God will touch you as we worship this morning’ – quite apart from the fact that my girl’s first thoughts will be literal interpretations, this language in the context of hypersensitivity/ hypo-sensitivity seems to me to be quite ripe for misunderstanding! What do we mean? Why do we use the word touch when we are describing God healing us or changing us, challenging or encouraging us?
In the encounters between God and His people we read about in the Old Testament we see a picture of God’s powerful holiness – so perfect, so whole, so Other than us that to touch even a
shadow of His presence could kill (2 Sam 6:6-11) to touch even the base of the mountainside when Moses went to listen to God was so dangerous that God gave clear instructions to His people to keep them safe (Ex 19:12-13). Yet there is also the beginning of the use of the language of God’s touch there in the Old Testament as well, people who were loyal to God described as ones whose hearts had been touched by God (1 Sam 10:26). There is also the language of God’s tangible presence when encouragement from God is promised to his people:
After all, it is I, the Eternal One your God, who has hold of your right hand, Who whispers in your ear, “Don’t be afraid. I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)
Then Jesus comes, completely tangible; living, eating, walking and talking alongside humanity. He literally touches blind eyes and they see for the first time, ears and they hear; he picks up children who are brought to meet him and they are blessed; when a woman who is living as an untouchable reaches out and touches the edge of his clothes she is healed and he knows. After he has risen to new life, he appears to his close followers inviting the doubters to touch his wounded hands and side and know without doubt that he is alive and not a ghost. In all these encounters there is a seamless, wholeness brought about by his touch – physical healing with new perspective, new spiritual understanding, new courage, new belonging, new purpose, new insight, new hope, new relationship with God. The transformation that the ‘touch of God’ in Jesus brings, is powerful, that dangerously powerful kind of powerful we saw in the Old Testament. No one goes away unchanged. Its another amazing glimpse into grace isn’t it, the so-powerfully-holy-it-could-kill-you God reaches out towards us to help us with a gentle touch. I love the gentle image of God’s patience in Revelation where He stands at the door and knocks, and waits for us to let Him in, this gentle touch, this encounter is not forced on us.
So when we talk about God’s touch, we are using the words to describe encounters with God’s powerful and personal presence. A presence that encourages, guides & keeps safe (holding the right hand), and powerfully heals bringing both physical and soul wholeness. For us its not with Jesus physically there actually touching us with his hand, but through the literal & real (even if unseen) presence of the Holy Spirit that we might not feel physically – though I’m not going to rule out the possibility!
Ok, so maybe I’m a bit clearer – now how to share that with the kids!!
I may have engineered a conversation or two in time to comment here! … First with B; what does it mean when we are praying and we ask God to touch someone? – um, not sure, maybe it’s when people have those wierd reactions, like God has actually touched them with his finger (pointing finger into my arm) and like the Holy Spirit has rushed into them like from a superhero… All I can say is I am looking forward to picking up where we left off! Plenty to chat about there, but interestingly literal don’t you think!
Next a conversation with T; what does it mean when we’re worshiping at church, and Daddy says come and find someone to pray with if God has touched you today? – God touches people to make them better – do you mean like when mummy has to touch your knee to clean it & put a plaster on if you fall over – no mummy (rather bemused and amused that I should make such a silly comment!) not like that, God’s hands are powerful!
Amazing, I love chatting with them about these things, always surprising – its little snippets here and there out loud together showing glimpses of all that God is showing them as they grow. So exciting…