As I was about to end a one-off Zoom meeting at work while working from home, I gave one of the usual end of the meeting words to all who were online…’Thanks guys and keep in touch’. Out of nowhere my youngest son, in his usual pesky demeanour said to me…’Dad, touching is not allowed nowadays’. Funny that one comment. But come to think of it, one of the few good things about this frustrating lockdown is that it does give us a lot to think about, and one thing that it has made me consider is the importance of touch. We are living in days when any physical contact is frowned on, if not forbidden, and, rightly, we need to be careful about what and who we touch.
I find it interesting that although we talk about ‘managing to keep in touch’ with people through technology, the irony is that the one thing we aren’t doing is touch. We link up with people through sight and sound, but not with physical contact. That inability to touch is a loss. We are now reduced to bows, hand waves or facial gestures.
What is more uncomfortable is the loss of touch when we are in contact with those we love; those people we would like to hug, hold or kiss. I kind of miss during prayer fellowships when we have to shake hands with friends and pat them. I realise it may be a bit agonising, because in the absence of physical contact, for those who find themselves in solitary isolation. Amidst all the serious concerns about this pandemic, one that’s overlooked is what we might call ‘touch deficiency’.
Although we take touch for granted, it is extraordinarily powerful and therapeutic. Medical science has confirmed how vital touch is for babies, yet that importance continues throughout our life.
Touch has been shown to improve our immune system, reduce pain, decrease blood pressure and alleviate depression. Sometimes, it raises our self-esteem when someone pats you in the back for a job well done.
Touch conveys intimacy and can often say more than words. Touch can carry different meanings too: comfort, warning, rebuke or love. Touch shows the importance of physical contact; that we can say of some emotional event that we were ‘touched’ by it.
Sadly, the very fact that so much has been made over the last few years about ‘inappropriate touching’ testifies to the power of touch.
I have realised that touch plays an important role in the Christian faith. On almost every page of the Gospels we read of some aspect of physical contact. The baby Jesus is wrapped in cloths and put in a manger. As an adult, Jesus bathes feet and heals by touch. Ultimately, Jesus is betrayed by a kiss, killed by physical force and carried away into a grave. When raised from the dead, Jesus confirms that he is no vision or ghost by allowing himself to be touched by his disciples. Remembering this, the apostle John wrote, ‘We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands’. In Jesus, the remote and untouchable God becomes literally someone who is at hand.
The physical emphasis of Christianity continues into the church. It’s there in the new covenant that Jesus created which focuses not on a form of words, but on the very physical elements of bread and wine. It’s there in baptisms and in the laying on of hands for healing. It’s there in greeting one another ‘with a holy kiss’ or whatever modern form we find culturally appropriate.
Touch is valuable. It should be part of our lives and it should be part of our fellowships. Sadly, touch reminds us at the deepest level how much we are valued and loved. It’s a fascinating thought that, in Jesus, human beings are able to touch the God who loves us so much that he put on flesh and became one of us. So if you are suffering ‘touch deficiency’ at the moment, remember that God understands that need. When ‘this is all over’ may we all be those who value touch a little bit more and are more ready to share it with those who need it and receive it ourselves. And, in the meantime, to use a phrase that can be a cliché but is in fact a reality, may we all know something of God’s touch at this time.