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The Theology Of Touch

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Going Blind

Only the blind can see.
Only the deaf can hear.
Only the hungry are fed.
Touch this world.
Only the blind can see.
Listen to yourself not thinking.
Only the deaf can hear.
Empty yourself of yourself.
Only the hungry are fed.

Commentary: Touch This World

Not being a scholar, I don’t know the story behind Michelangelo’s choice. Maybe no one does. What I do know is that in the Torah the story goes that God blew the breath of life into Adam through his nostrils. It was breath that was the vital force.

When painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through breath. He threw the metaphor out.  He chose touch. God touched Adam, and Adam came to life. Michelangelo was a sculptor who, through touch, brought the lifeless to life. He retold the story of Genesis in his own image.

Theology, to me, is not spiritual; it’s tangible. It’s earthy. It’s physical.

Maimonides, a 12th century Rabbinic scholar from Spain, said God was Reality. For me, reality feels pretty physical. You know, getting up, bathing, grooming, eating, and going to work, or going to look for work. Or on other days, cleaning your house, going shopping for food, stopping at a couple other stores for this or that. Taking your car, if you have one, into the shop for an oil and filter change.

And then, on occasion, there’s a free day. You’re out in the country. A cool breeze brushes against your face. The warmth of the sun sits on your shoulders. You hear the sound of a stream nearby, smell a slight sent of cedar in the air.

Sounds physical to me.

Other people feel God is Love. Kindness is one way we express our love.  Kindness is love in action. Acts of kindness seem physical to me. Doing little things for people. Helping out.

It makes sense to think about a theology of touch. Think about giving a baby a bath, or sweeping the snow off the front steps for your grandfather who’s coming over for dinner, or feeding a stray cat. I can’t see accomplishing any of those acts of kindness without touch or without being touched.  There’s got to be a relationship between theology and touch.

When my wife and I adopted, Noah, our second baby from Korea, Noah was gaunt and withdrawn. His digestion was not good. He didn’t eat much. He rarely smiled. It didn’t matter. We loved him infinitely anyway.

Our babies arrived on Korean time, so when we were ready to go to sleep they were just waking up for the day. Being the light sleeper in the house, I was the one who stayed up at night with the babies. One night while feeding Noah from a bottle, I noticed that his shoulder blades were acutely drawn together and tightly pulled up toward the back of his head, almost always a sign of fear or anxiety. In Noah it felt like fear.

After feeding Noah I’d sit down on the floor, lean back against the wall with my knees up, and place Noah’s little body facing mine, his back comfortably lying against my thighs. I became the perfect reclining chair.  I’d reach around to his back, placing each of my hands on a tiny shoulder blade. I just relaxed and rested my hands, rested my entire body, and dropped into a deep calmness within myself. I imagined my hands, and with them Noah’s shoulder blades sliding down away from the back of his head and around toward the sides of his little ribs.

A week went by and it seemed there was no way Noah was going to let those shoulder blades go.  But he was my son and I was not about to give up. One night, all at once, like a little avalanche, Noah’s shoulder blades completely released and spread wide apart. A big smile spread across his whole face. He threw his head back and let out a huge laugh. The next morning he had a big appetite, his digestion returned to normal, he had about twice the energy and began to gain weight.

God in the palms of your hands. The theology of touch. Touching this world.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful!

    November 19, 2013
  2. Sometimes the Alexander Technique goes beyond what any of us can dare to imagine, from remarkable to truly awe-inspiring. What a wonderful story! Karen

    November 19, 2013
    • Thanks Karen. Yes, the work never ceases to amaze me. Naturally, (after 40 years), my work seems to get simpler and deeper. And I’ve had the pleasure to witness some awe-inspiring shifts in people. wishing you the best. bruce

      November 20, 2013

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