I am fortunate to work in a hands on profession. Hands pick up bodies to “do positioning,” a practice that prevents skin breakdown. Hands write scripts for medication, hold books that enable learning, sign documents, speak in the form of American Sign Language, fall across keyboards to do necessary paperwork and most importantly hold fast to others in their dying. Those same hands go home at the end of the day to pick up children, prepare food, plant gardens, and hold lovers. On Sundays they grasp sacred bread and at weddings they are wrapped around the waists of new brides and grooms who will find their hands clasped together as they walk with one another in what for them is a brave new world.
We are an embodied people. The eyes can glance the most beautiful things, but seeing is not enough. Admiration from afar is an impossibility. We dwell fully in the realm of our bodies. It does no good to glance at heaven if our fingers do not do the work required of us on earth.
The most biting scene in cinema I can think of comes from Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light. Here a Swedish priest finds himself repulsed by his mistress’ hands. Looking beyond the physical condition to which the scene points is the minister’s inability to see beyond the esoteric and universal to the particular and embodied world. He is repulsed by the appearance of his companion’s scars, forgetting that his salvation was had in bloodied and scarred hands pinioned by nail to board.
Unlike our eyes, our hands are rarely always lovely as they often become weathered and sometimes crack and bleed. Yet they do the most beautiful things….and sometimes that which is not beautiful. (It is wise to take a moment before using the hands to let them be regulated by the heart.)
There is a point to this. I have again begun seeing much out there about our filthy and repugnant bodies. I have read again about love that is only to exist on a so-called higher plane, that Anders Nygren sort of love, which is too much like the love Bergman chastises in Winter Light. There is a place for this disinterested hands off kind of love, but it is a very small place and most often this agape is no love whatsoever.
Paul Tillich is right, agape minus eros is cold. (He goes on to say eros without agape is selfish.) We can only love so much in the realm of the mind. More often than not, we will turn away from love that does not involve another’s hands if only because we cannot escape being embodied.
Our hands are powerful instruments and their use does involve caution. Hands, after all are the great instigators of passion that will quickly pull in the heart and they may also become the instruments of violence, which is sometimes necessary, but often is not. Failing to use them is worse. We may get out of involving ourselves in a few situations we should not be in, but we may also fail to be in wondrous places because of the cowardly and apathetic hands off world. Besides we are always an embodied creature. A pair of hands pulled us out into this vast great world and placed us into our mother’s arms and if we are fortunate we will find ourselves held by the hands of another when we depart for the world to come.