“People were bringing little children to him so that he might touch them…” (Mark 10:13a)
For me, one of the greatest losses, since COVID-19 hit and changed our lives, has been the loss of touch. I deeply miss being able to hug friends and even shake hands with strangers.
I’m lucky in that I have a spouse that I can and do touch and two cats who provide me lots of opportunities for snuggles and pets. Yet I miss the opportunity for those long, joy-filled embraces between friends.
When I think about how much I’m missing touch in these past months my mind and heart turn to my friends and colleagues who are single or widowed and don’t have a spouse, partner, children, or even a pet to touch. Their loss of touch due to COVID-19 is far greater and deeper than mine.
For the record I want to say that I totally support our social distancing and wearing masks. I also support no large gatherings. To me, doing all of these things is a loving act that shows our care and concern for family, friends, and strangers. Despite the pain all of the actions can bring they are the right actions to take.
For years psychologists and sociologists have been telling us how important touch is for our development from the moment of birth onward. Studies have shown how the lack of touch greatly inhibits the physical, emotional, and mental development of infants and children. On the other end of our life spectrum, we encounter one of the chronic conditions that many in our elderly population suffer from, the lack of touch. Especially those living alone or in institutional care.
Human beings are wired from the very beginning for touch. We need to be touched and to touch others. A term for the severe lack of touch that I came across the other day is ‘touch starvation’. Let the visualization of that term sink in for a minute.
Think about pictures of starving children and adults that you have seen over the years.
The emaciated bodies. The hollow eyes. Now think about the soul, the spirit, the essence of a person who is experiencing touch starvation. I imagine a soul, a spirit that is in danger of becoming emaciated and hollow just like the body without food.
Touch starvation isn’t new with COVID-19. Many in our society have long been suffering from this malady. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the issue. People who are single or live alone had myriad opportunities for meaningful touch through family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers just like their partnered friends and family had. Now though, with social distancing, we are left waving at each other across six feet of space or elbow bumps if we choose to violate the six-foot rule.
When we look at the life of Jesus, we see that touch was a vital part of his life and ministry. I counted up seventeen individual times the synoptic gospels spoke about Jesus touching someone or their reaching out and touching him. It would be a higher number if you counted the same stories over in the different gospels. Jesus’ touch always brought healing of some sort. He even said that he could feel power flow out from him when someone touched him and was healed as a result. Touch was such an important part of Jesus’ presence in our world that he even had his disciples touch him after his resurrection.
Touch for humans as well as animals brings healing of its own to both our bodies and souls. It feeds our need for closeness and connection. I will continue to look for ways to feed my own need for touch in a safe and healthy way during this pandemic. I pray that you too will be able to find new and creative ways to feed your skin, your soul, and your spirit with the food of touch in the months to come.
Let us pray...
Dearest Jesus, you came into the world experiencing the touch of a mother and father who wrapped you not only in their arms but in their love as well. As an adult, you demonstrated time and time again the necessity of touch for physical, mental, and spiritual healing. Be with each of us in this strange time of forbidden physical closeness to find creative ways to feed our skin, our minds, and our hearts with the gift of touch. Feed us through your healing touch upon our bodies and souls that may we in turn feed others through that same loving touch with which you first fed us. Amen.