Welcome to the Taste and See: Experiencing God with Our Senses online retreat. Each Monday we’ll explore one of the senses as a way to encounter God. Today we consider the sense of touch.
Unlike some of the other senses, touch requires proximity. You can see, smell, or hear a person from a distance, but to touch someone or something, you need to be up close.
Maybe that’s why touch is so often taken as proof of an experience. Our eyes may deceive us, but to reach out and touch something is inconvertible evidence that it’s solid, that it actually exists and shares our space. In a concert, you often see fans in the front row reaching up eagerly to touch the singer, as if doing so makes the experience that much more real for them. For me, anytime I’m on an airplane, I reach for my husband’s hand during takeoff (my least favorite part of a flight). I see him sitting in the next seat, but when I can actually touch him, it gives me even more reassurance that I’m not alone in those few anxiety-provoking minutes.
We see something similar in the Gospel of John, when Mary Magdalene realizes the man she’s speaking to is not the gardener, but the risen Jesus. She grabs onto him as if for proof, apparently so tightly that Jesus tells her, “Don’t hold onto me.” Later, when Jesus appears to doubting Thomas, he invites Thomas not just to look at him but to touch his side. There is something about touch; it grounds us. It can help us believe that what we are seeing is in fact real.
That’s why there is so much power in the fact that God the Creator became man and walked around among us. Jesus had a body that could be touched, as his mother Mary touched him, as the people in the crowds touched him, as the disciples touched him. God seems to know that we humans always find it easier to believe in the things we can touch. The Incarnation honors that, in a very simple but profound way.
And though we can’t touch the incarnate God as they did two thousand years ago, we can offer witness to his existence through the things we do with our own bodies. The kind touches we give to others—a bear hug, an arm to lean on, a squeeze of the hand during takeoff—are more than just little gestures. They add to the sum of goodness in the world, making it that much easier for others to believe in the loving God who brought it all into being.
Begin. Center yourself. Take three deep breaths and open yourself to God’s presence.
Give thanks. Thank God for the ability to communicate through touch, for those whose touches heal and nurture us, and for the incarnate God who chose to relate to us in such a tangible way.
Review. Think of times that you have used touch in order to verify something’s existence or to make the experience more real for you. Choose one experience and imagine yourself there again. How did touch help strengthen your belief or give you reassurance?
Who are people in your life who have touched you lovingly and tenderly? Think of a few names. Remember them and reflect on their role in making you feel safe and valued.
Look ahead. Tomorrow, pay attention to the touches you give other people. How do you use touch to comfort, nurture, and bring God’s goodness to the world? How do others do the same to you?
Every day, find a few moments to center yourself. Imagine Jesus there with you. Imagine him giving you a hug, or squeezing your hand, or putting his hands on your head. Let yourself rest in the loving touch of Christ.
Don’t miss any of the posts in this retreat series. Subscribe to dotMagis to receive posts in your inbox. Go more in-depth with the themes of this retreat by reading Ginny Kubitz Moyer’s book Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses.