God’s tender fingers reach out from age to age to touch the softened inner spaces of those
who open their souls in hope.
Ann Johnson, Miryam of Nazareth
There is something moving and real and deeply tender in the gesture of open hands. It is the beggar’s universal gesture of appeal. It suggests a willingness to receive, to admit need, a desire to be filled. It is our gesture as we come to Christ in the Eucharist. It speaks of humility and vulnerability, those qualities not always valued in our culture today. It is in complete contrast to any form of ‘rape’, and I am referring here to the more general meaning of that word, which is ‘to take by force’, and which can be applied to anything that is ‘taken’ in that way. Rape of any kind is violent and destructive and suggests greed and ‘neediness’ rather than a deeply discerned need. The spiritual life cannot be taken by force. Our spiritual life is the life of God within us, and that cannot be grabbed or forced. We live in a culture, however, which does promote something of this grabbing, grasping, taking by force. ‘Get out there and get what you want’ is often the message we are given. But in our spiritual life, open hands are our most authentic posture. Receptivity is the path we are invited to walk. But why does grabbing or grasping, taking by force, not lead to an authentic spiritual life? And what in fact might it mean to know what we deeply desire and need, and to achieve that in our spiritual growth, without ‘grabbing’?
Here is a lovely story, told by theologian James Mackey, which invites us into reflection on this. It is the experience of a man he knew, who was in Africa, on a hunting expedition:
“One morning he left camp early, hiked a few miles into the bush by himself, and shot two wild turkeys. Buckling these to his belt, he was walking back towards camp, when he heard noises and realized he was being followed. Frightened, his hands tight on his rifle, he scanned the woods for movement. His fear was quickly dispelled. What he saw stalking him was a young boy, about twelve years old, naked and hungry. He realized instantly that what the boy wanted was not him but food. He stopped, opened his belt, let the turkeys fall to the ground, and backed away. The young boy ran up to the turkeys, but didn’t pick them up. Instead he looked towards the man and, in his own language, began asking him for something. Not understanding what the boy was asking, but sensing that he wanted permission to take the birds, the man began gesturing to him that it was okay. But the boy still was not at ease. He kept asking and gesturing for something. Finally, in desperation, the boy took several steps back from the turkeys and stood silently with his hands out, open in front of him – waiting until the man came and placed the turkeys into his hands. Then he ran off into the jungle. He had, despite his hunger and need, refused to take the birds. He had waited until they were given to him”.
Ms Kerry McCullough
Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator