By John Roy
April 23, 2018
There are those in the Christian tradition who practice healing by “laying hands” on the sick. Of course, there are others who consider such primitive remedies nonsense. Yet most of us will grant that being touched (hugged, cuddled, rubbed) is better than not being touched. There is though, a minority of people who find touching to be uncomfortable.
Touching is a physical activity which has emotional consequences. When we are touched, more than our flesh is touched. Inappropriate human touch is involved in bringing pain to the lives of countless children. However, we speak of such physical behavior as scarring the child emotionally. Thus touch has power beyond bringing relief to sore muscles or warmth on a winter night touch can scar or heal.
My mother is a healer, excuse me I mean toucher. There was once a Thanksgiving when neither myself nor my two siblings could see mother for the holiday. Without lament she went on with her Thanksgiving meal, she invited a widowed aunt, and two of her nieces who had fallen on hard times. One niece was battling drug addiction, and the other was estranged from her mother. Along with the sweet potatoes they received a hug and a touch that said, “this is your home.”
She never overdoes it, but mother has the uncanny knack of knowing when to touch and when to refrain from touching. Yet, her touching is never for her pleasure, well maybe when she hugs the grandchildren, her touch is for you. It’s the touch that heals.
In addition to life itself, science testifies to the healing power of touch. At the University of Miami, researchers are discovering evidence which shows how we can benefit from increasing our amount of physical contact. The origin of the contact can be with family, friends, or even a massage therapist and it improves our health, both emotionally and physically.
Researchers at Duke have also discovered that after massage therapy, the human body secretes lower levels of the hormones cortisol and dopamine. These hormones make us anxious, which can cause stress-related diseases such as heart attack. Thus reducing the level of these hormones through meaningful touch can lower the hormones’ negative consequences.
Another study sponsored by the National Institute of Health, provided medical and nursing students massage therapy the week before their exams. The students who participated demonstrated an increased immune response in compared to those who did not have treatment. So a massage, hug or cuddle a day can help keep at least help you survive exam week.
Jesus as best as I can tell was a touch-er. He was an open human; Jesus has one of those faces that said, “yes.” His body language was warm and inviting. Word spread about his willingness to touch and be touched; his desire to hold hands with the sick gave him the reputation of a healer. In Mark’s gospel, the story is told not about Jesus touching but about Jesus being touched.
In the crowd was a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had gone to many doctors, and they had not done anything except cause her a lot of pain. She had paid them all the money she had. But instead of getting better, she only got worse.
The woman had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him in the crowd and barely touched his clothes. She had said to herself, “If I can just touch his clothes, I will get well.” As soon as she touched them, her bleeding stopped, and she knew she was well.
Medicine is an answer, but apparently, it is not the only answer. Sometimes what we need to remove the pain is to be touched. Pain is powerful. Pain is one of the elements which release cortisol. The odd thing about pain is that when we need to be touched the most is when we are the most untouchable. When our teenager is raging with the hormones of growing up, and they fly off at us, it is then they need to be embraced, and yet at this moment, they are acting so un-loveable. When a loved one is in the hospital, they are strapped down with cords and IV’s. Their movement is limited, and we find it difficult to bend over far enough to hug them. When they need a touch the most the best we can do is rub their hand or back. His touch is what made Jesus such a powerful healer. Instead of having a natural response by pulling away or turning away Jesus found a way to embrace.
Earlier in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is asked to touch a little girl to heal her. Her father is desperate. Jesus and the father learn the little girl dies before Jesus reaches her. Jesus continues, even in death he reaches out to “take her by the hand,” and she rises from the dead. At the times and the places where we find it challenging to touch, Jesus finds a way to touch.
Pain is a great adversary, and certainly, human touch is not the only way to confront such a rival. However, let us no longer underestimate the significance of human touch. So for better health and better relationships, reach out and offer a hug. To touch someone is not a mere physical act, it is a way of suppressing pain and healing our emotions. Human touch reaches beneath our skin to our spirits.