It’s a recognised fact that one of the experiences most missed by people living alone is that of being touched by another person. I recall a conversation many years ago with a colleague recently divorced, who felt it most acutely in the muscles of his upper arm: “There’s no one to hug,” he said.
Inter-gender touch is a particularly sensitive area, where touching of any kind is only acceptable in certain circumstances. Within four days the other week, I found myself unexpectedly delighted by two very different incidents. The first was being gently nudged by a nurse into position for a chest X-ray, and the second was standing for a photograph with my cousin’s fiancée in an ‘arms around each other’ pose.
At the turn of the year, I found on my shelves an old book that I’m now using for daily readings throughout this year, Come ye Apart, by James Russell Miller (1840-1912). (Can it be coincidence that I’m drafting this on the anniversary of his death?) On the evening of the second of those two incidents, the topic was what is, to Christians, arguably one of the most familiar ‘touching stories’ in the Gospels, (Mark 5:25-30).
Miller draws out five key elements from this narrative. First, he links the woman’s touching of Jesus’ garment to our ‘touching’ of Christ through our worship. He then goes on to categorise some of our possible needs: emotional or physical sores to be healed, weaknesses to be overcome or something we might be longing for, and suggests that some folk will find their needs met, while others won’t.
He offers a possible reason for this disparity. To those who have been helped, he suggests, this result has come by prayer and faith – remember, the woman in the story had faith (Mark 5:34) – while others, to use Miller’s own words, ‘have no faith-attachment’. He illustrates this by comparing the services of the church to a telegraph wire (the book was published in 1887!). We could climb up and listen to the wire but would hear nothing of the messages flowing along it but, if the operator should come along and attach his receiver – in our case faith – to the wire, he would be able to hear every word.
We all need to be touched, but especially those who are alone. It’s worth remembering that, in the right context, a touch – however brief – can be the means of imparting some blessing which, through a lack of faith, the other person might be missing out on … and the nature of which we may never know!