Jesus' 21st century hands

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I walk past the billboard declaring, “Mental health affects everyone. On January 31st, let’s talk about it.” When my brain finally makes the connection, I find it mildly ironic that January 31st is the day my lease ends, one factor in the saga of the past few months that has tipped me into a depression for which I’m having to take antidepressant medication for the first time in my life.
The timing has not been convenient. (Is a disruption like that ever convenient?) Almost everything about moving requires making a series of decisions: choosing where to move, what to pack and what to sell or give away, trying to sort out what I’ll need for the next three months and what can be tucked away in the boxes that aren’t to be opened until after I almost certainly need to move again in three months’ time. (To where? That will be another matter for discernment and decision.) All these decisions are a problem for someone in the midst of a depression where even the simplest daily decisions seem almost impossible.
I’ve needed my friends: one to look at possible apartments with me, another to help me see how to fit my few remaining pieces of furniture into my temporary new room to make a little corner that can feel like home, and to pack some things and suggest a few concrete next steps for me to take. One to bring a meal and pray and sit with me for a few hours when I could no longer bear to be alone with my thoughts. A friend from my spiritual director course will help move furniture and boxes on moving day, and another from Regent days will help clean. Most have done several of those things and I have been so touched by their sacrificial love. I want to love like that.
I still find it hard to need help.
I find it harder to need help for mental health limitations than for physical health ones. (Why is that, I wonder?)
I’ve thought my resistance to needing help is because I care about the needs of others and don’t want to bother them with mine. I suspect the deeper reason is pride, an extension of the lie in the garden that it’s possible to be like God, limitless and without needs.
Once again I’m learning what I’ve experienced so many times before: it’s only in the places of weakness and vulnerability and opening ourselves to receive that we learn how loved we are. Grace is not a concept; it’s a person and an action, embodied once in first century Palestine and continually enfleshed as His body lives on in 21st century Vancouver and around the world. I receive grace not just in letting Jesus lift my sins, not just in baptism and bread and wine, but in boxes packed and sinks scrubbed and hands laid on my shoulders to pray in moments when presence and touch matters more than words. As often as not, it’s through Jesus’ 21st century hands that I experience God’s unfailing kindness.
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Two days before I was diagnosed and started on meds, a friend took me for the first time to a new soul care group. New groups are often a struggle for me, but this group of six people felt like a gift from the moment they opened the door and welcomed me into an evening of colour in a long stretch of darkness. We ate delicious tortilla soup and kale salad and walnut bread, and by the time we lingered together over prayer and communion, the couplet in the prayer we were praying had settled deep in me:

Let me not run from the love that you offer,
But hold me safe from the forces of evil.

Someone read it again, aloud, this time in plural: “Let us not run from the love that you offer, but hold us safe. . .”
Safely held. Those two words have lingered with me through the almost two weeks since that meeting, through the diagnosis and the new meds and the receiving of help and the still not knowing which address I’ll be travelling from when I meet with that group three or four months down the road. Part of our safely held is Jesus’ 21st century body, and being in this together. Safely held in the hands that hold the universe, yes, and, when I don’t run, in each set of hands through which our present and active God chooses to offer himself to me, packing, scrubbing, praying, hugging, and feeding me with his unfailing kindness as he also, in his kindness, continues to give me small ways to pass his love along to others.

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Offering our bodies: the hands-on God

 

 

 

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I watch the hands that bathe the baby. Strong. Skilled. Gentle. The newborn relaxes into being held, lets herself be stilled. For the first few moments she is alert, gazing up into the face of the midwife, then her eyes close and she rests. Reflexively, she sucks. Instinctively, her little arms wrap around the bigger ones which hold her so tenderly. But mostly she stills and rests, secure in the hands which submerge her in the water until only her tiny nose peeks out.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” (Isaiah 43:2)

Our God is a hands-on God. He didn’t merely speak us into being. He shaped us, breathed into us. He carries us, holds us by our right hand, lifts us up in his arms. Our God touches, taking children on his lap, placing his hands on them and blessing them; touching the untouchable leper, Jairus’ dead daughter, the man born blind.

I struggle to get my head around the intimacy of this God who touches, to relax into being held, and find myself in the company of the psalmist:

“You hem me in – behind and before; You have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Ps 139:5-6)

The hands which have cradled, crafting the detailed intricacy of our bodies from the moment of conception, hold us still. When the water is up to my nose, I need to know this. The psalmist did too. In the most horrifically traumatic experience of his life, when he felt more like a worm than a human, rejected by people and deserted by God, he turned to the midwifing God.

“Yet it was you who pulled me out of the womb, you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.” (Psalm 22:9)

Again desperate, he cries out to God as the one who cut his umbilical cord at his birth:

“It was you who cut me from my mother’s womb.” (Ps 71:6)

He knows himself as vulnerable, as utterly helpless, as at his birth. If this life-protecting, midwifing God does not intervene, he will die.

He knows this too: the One who guarded his life at birth guards him still. Feeling desperately his own helplessness, he stakes all his hope on the wisdom and gentle protection of this God who touches and tends.

I can only offer my body a living sacrifice when I remember that it’s into these strong, skilled, gentle hands that I’m being called to give myself. The truth is, these hands are already holding me. My offering merely acknowledges what is, lets me rest in these safe hands instead of trying to do for myself what I cannot do.

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Want to soak further in the joy of belonging to this hands-on God? Choose a phrase from one of the verses above, or explore the others listed below, and then, asking God to enable you to rest in His hands, watch this 5 minute clip of the baby resting in the hands of the midwife.

Gen 2:7; Ex 19:4; 33:22; Deut 1:31; 33:12, 27; Psalm 18:16; Ps 95:4-7; SS 2:6; Is 41:10; 46:3-4; 63:9; Mark 10:16; John 10:28-29; 1 Pet 1:5; Rev 1:7

If you’d like to join us in a six week study of the character of this One who calls us to offer ourselves to him, you can download your free copy here.