Hands of the Spirit
Recently I have been privileged to work on a project that focuses on hands. When I first was asked to do this work, I thought, “How hard could that be?” As with things that seem so deceptively simple, it was not so simple! I will spare you the details of the work. It was not inherently spiritual. But it did provoke some interesting and, I think, spiritual considerations for me personally. These I will share.
If you have two hands---which most people have---you probably are like me in the sense that I don’t pay too much attention to my hands. Since I have had hands all my life, they seem to be there as a given. They are a normal, natural part of the human anatomy. I know they allow me to do a myriad of things. And many of the things I can do are actually pretty astonishing. But I must say, I think most of the time I am not aware of my hands.
My hands are simply there---doing things at a subconscious level. It is probably only in these times when my hands fail me, that the awareness of them jumps into my mind. I notice these little things. For example, as I am getting older, I have less strength. It is not as easy to open one of those glass jars as it used to be. Often when I give that first twist and nothing happens, I find myself looking at my hands.
I am intrigued by the language we use pertaining to hands. It is not unusual to hear someone talk about a “hands on” operation. We use similar language when we want people to stay out of our business or out of the action. We talk about a “hands off” protocol. Language about hands often becomes metaphorical. When I was growing up, it was not unusual to hear someone describe himself as a “handyman.” When folks are stymied in a task, we hear them say they are “handcuffed.” And of course, when we need help, we turn to someone and ask them, “give me a hand.”
Clearly what hands can do is amazing. Watching a violinist’s hands move is mesmerizing. I have always been captivated by the expert typist whose hands seem literally to fly. And there is no person my age who can match the unbelievable speed of the young person texting on his or her cell phone! We truly can conclude that our hands are fascinating tools for executing an incredible range of activities.
The more I pondered hands, the more I could sense the spiritual undertones. I have never taken the time to think about that because I was unaware of the total meaning of my hands. The hand is more than the extension of an appendage of the body. Clearly the arm is the appendage and to that the hand is connected.
Let me be bold and suggest our hands are sources of revelation. Probably all of us have heard the phrase, “the eyes are the windows of our soul.” I believe this to be true. And I also believe there is a similar perspective about our hands. I would articulate this perspective like this: “our hands often express our deeper self---the deeper ‘you.’” Furthermore, this expressive process is spiritual.
If you don’t think hands have an expressive function, simply watch some folks talk. Some of us can talk with our hands in our pockets, but others simply cannot use words without hands waving, pointing, etc. The hands can caution or invite. Hands can hush or cheer. The deaf among us can literally “talk with their hands.” It makes me wonder how do you say “love” with your hands? I am sure sign language has its signal. But I have my own version of sign language.
When my young granddaughter takes my hand and we walk together, we are telling each other something about love. As I expand this line of thought, I know my hands have been healing hands. It may sound corny, but I am confident the Spirit has flowed through my hands with a healing effect for others. I don’t confuse healing with miracle. I don’t suggest I can put my hands on a cancer-ridden person and he or she suddenly experience physical healing.
I also am confident my hands have been hands of blessing. And I know others have touched me with hands that were blessings. In one sense the blessing comes from me. In a deeper sense the blessing comes through me. When I have offered healing and/or blessing hands, I have felt that I am the instrument of the Spirit. To paraphrase the biblical perspective, it is not I but the Spirit working through me that makes all the difference.
This resonates with my own belief that deep within each of us is a Divine Center. It is at that place (although not a literal place) that we discover our deepest self. This is the true self, as Merton called it. It is the place of purity and power. It is the meeting place of God’s Spirit and our own individual spirit.
When we are in touch with that deeper self, then whatever expression and action coming through our hands becomes special. When we are in this place, truly we do have hands of the Spirit.