Friday, September 23, 2011

Stories Our Hands Could Tell

A meditation I read recently about hands got me thinking: Our hands are so much a part of who we are, what we do. What stories they could tell about us.

An expert observer could instantly surmise important facts about someone simply by looking at their hands: Rough, weathered hands of a farmer or lifetime outdoor laborer. Calloused fingertips of an accomplished guitarist or violinist. The soft, well-manicured, painted-nail hands of a woman of means that hasn’t needed to spend much time doing strenuous housework. Delicate, nurturing hands of a practiced gardener.

But appearances alone don’t tell all of the story. Hands can caress, comfort, and console. They can coddle a helpless infant, providing a sense of security so vital for its first days outside the womb. Hands can scribble notes to inspire or encourage. They can offer strength and support, provide direction, issue warnings. They can direct an orchestra or a choir, change a tire, knit a beautiful scarf, repair a torn garment. They can communicate affection. Or offer silent praise.

Unlike my grandfather, father and favorite uncle, my hands have never excelled in using tools like hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches. Mine have functioned better at a keyboard – my tool of trade – composing words, assembling sentences and paragraphs to convey ideas.

Hands, unfortunately, can also be destructive. They can slap, bruise, squeeze, push, pound, poke and punch. A kindly looking face can belie an abusive personality that reveals itself with angry hands only behind closed doors. Even without contact, hands can point threateningly, or punctuate harsh, demeaning words.

I had a friend, a law enforcement officer in Jamaica, whose hands were severed by a machete-wielding criminal he had been pursuing. But even Ivan’s artificial hands spoke volumes about his life.

As we might expect, the Bible says a lot about hands. My concordance lists more than four full pages of passages containing “hand.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 instructs, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might….” Half-hearted is the equivalent of “half-handed.”

Biblical patriarchs such as Abraham, Noah, Joseph, Moses, Samson, Elijah, Nehemiah and others all used their hands in unique ways in serving God. Jesus literally changed lives with the touch of a hand. His hands, nailed to a cross, extended forgiveness to broken humanity.

We’ve all seen reproductions of Michelangelo’s iconic painting, displayed on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, of the hand of God extending to give life to Adam.

Believers are exhorted to, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). And colonial pastor Jonathan Edwards in 1741 spoke his classic sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Hands – exquisite stories captured in fingers and palms.

What, if it were possible, would your hands say about you? 

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