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holy hands

I’m currently in a phase of “secular” work (employed at a church, but not empowered to use my “magic hands” — that is, to function as a priest), and have had the opportunity to reflect quite a bit on the boundaries of Christian ministry.

It’s been painful to be among the faithful and unable to offer them the full call of my vocation, but this limit has given me pause to explore the vocation of lay Christians, who comprise the large majority of the Church. Anybody can call up a fellow parishioner and ask how her surgery went; anyone can sit and pray with a friend who has suffered or committed a betrayal. Each Christian is called to be God’s hands in the world, though most have not had their hands anointed or the Holy Spirit called upon their heads for the purpose of being ordained. Being bereft of the “power” of consecration and blessing isn’t really so limiting.

Recently a lunch companion and fellow ordained minister misidentified a sacrament as “something only a priest can do.” We were talking at the table about marriage, but I thought immediately of baptism, that most immediate, salvific sacrament; no priest is necessary there, no magic hands required for God’s saving grace to be enacted.

Indeed, my husband’s family love to tell the story of his own irregular baptism, which took place in the NICU when he was born almost three months premature. His father found water and claimed his soul as God’s in the country hospital in North Dakota. God’s hands caressed this tiny baby through his own earthly father’s hands, even as his father was giving his son into the hands of God the Father.

This hiatus from priestly work has coincided exactly with my start as a yoga instructor. As I help my students move into healing postures in the yoga studio, I notice how my humble hands guide their bodies, gently leading them into deeper discoveries and greater healing. Just as I do when I have the honor of consecrating Holy Communion, or laying hands on the sick, or blessing and absolving, even now I am using my hands to guide others toward the Divine, providing companionship as we seek to turn toward God and the warm light of his healing grace.

This morning, opening my prayerbook, I had a flashback of my grandpa’s hands.

He is almost a year dead; this will be our first Christmas without him and my eyes were caught by my nail-painted and bejeweled hand as I opened the Psalms. Winter has made my skin dry and taut, and suddenly they were not my hands, but my grandfather’s blue veins running like mountain ranges, a bunch of knuckles interrupted by hand. I realized that his blood is in me, just like Jesus’ blood is in me. My hands are not my own, but belong to God, to my ancestors, and even to my progeny. Whether I have clearance to use my magic hands in strict liturgical settings matters very little to God’s work in the world.

Grandpa’s hands symbolize the integrity, the love, and the service that he made the hallmark of his life. As all integrity, love, and service come originally from our Lord, the Father of all, Grandpa gave his hands to this work, which lives on in my hands and those of his other progeny, as well as friends. Whether hands have been slathered with holy oil or been given written permission to wave over wafers and wine, God uses hands and hearts which are given willingly to his use and service.

Emily Hylden’s other posts may be found here. The featured image was supplied by the author. 


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