Bob Macke, SJ, the curator of the Vatican Observatory’s meteorite collection, is rooting around in a drawer. He pulls out a plastic bag with a nondescript rock about the size of my fist, and cupping it in his hand, wonders aloud at how wild it is to wrap your hands around something that—at four and a half billion years—is older than the planet, almost as old as the sun itself.
I, too, am in awe. To touch something that has swept through space, that has traversed the solar system since before the earth itself came into being, to feel its weight and the way it takes on the warmth of my hands, is to let the reality of creation’s vast expanse settle in and take on life. The immensity of the universe come to rest in my hands.
To touch something is, for that moment, to brush aside my boundaries and to be uncertain quite where I begin or end. It’s simultaneously a movement, a reaching out and toward, and a still point, a reminder to hold firmly what has come to rest in my hands. Touching is risky, and at times messy. I leave something of myself behind on anything I touch and am left with something that is arguably not-me sticking to my hands—the remains of my young nephew’s ice cream cone as he takes my hand to cross the street, my son’s DNA as he envelops me in a hug after a long separation.
We describe prayer as talking to God or listening to God. Yet both these images of prayer let me keep a bit of distance between God and me. I sit on the sofa, God next to me. I look up to the altar or to the heavens, God before me, God above me. But I’m starting to wonder if to pray is in reality to touch and be touched by God. To move toward God, reaching out, and at the same time, to be still, allowing God’s hand to rest upon me. To let go of my boundaries, to be uncertain where I end and God takes up. To be willing to risk letting God within me.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis urges us to get our hands into the mystery that is God and let it get into us: “If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.” We are called not just to walk with Christ but to be clothed in Christ, to wrap ourselves up in God.
To hold in my hand for a moment a piece of the universe was an intimate experience of the infinite, the sublime collapsed into an unremarkable package. And what do I desire, if not the infinite, invincible, ineffable God, come to dwell within my very ordinary life?