Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Sensing Lent 19: Hands

We underestimate the sense of touch in worship. In an over sexualized society, we are perhaps naturally cautious about anything inappropriate. But touch is still powerful in the right context. On day 3 of the Oxford Diocese clergy conference today we had a chance to be anointed with oil during the Holy Communion service. Oil has long been used in Christian worship for healing and blessing. You simply hold out your hands and the person puts oil on each palm, praying:

'In the name of God, and trusting in his might alone,
Receive Christ's healing touch to make you whole.

May Christ bring you wholeness 
of body, mind and spirit,
deliver you from every evil,
and give you his peace.'

The open hands, the skin, receiving the touch of oil, given by another's hand.

There was also the chance to have the laying on of hands for prayer and blessing. This is again an ancient practice, used in Ordination, providing a tactile way to assure someone of God's help and power. At the New Wine summer conferences they always say keep your eyes open while you pray for someone - watch what God is doing in their face. I find this hard - it seems a bit like being a 'peeping tom' on something very intimate between that person and God.

Again, it's in the physical touch of hands that you feel God's own touch, which is not physical, exactly, but which is so much more than just a fuzzy feeling inside. That touch of God via someone else's prayerful touch is sometimes accompanied by other physical sensations - extreme relaxation, sighing, weeping or trembling, so that the whole body becomes involved. I don't think it's just me - it would seem to be a common experience when the Holy Spirit is afoot. It's just naturally supernatural.

So there were a lot of hands today - hands open, hands anointing, hands praying, hands blessing. A room full of 350 clerics's hands praying, anointing and blessing each other whilst receiving Christ in bread and wine (and singing) was, I have to admit, pretty powerful stuff, not to mention a fantastic feat of spiritual multi-tasking.

My only tip would be - next time can we have some fragranced oil? When I had anointing at the On Fire conference, 4 years ago, I smelt nice for days - but more importantly, I felt in some way for a while afterwards, that I was inhabiting the fragrance of the divine.

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