Reach Out…But Wash Your Hands

During this time, I have especially loved watching the video of a government official warning people against touching their face and hands. “Today, start working on not touching your face because one main way viruses spread is when you touch your own mouth, nose, or eyes.” She then proceeded to lick her fingertips before turning the page on her notes. As the Bible says, “Physician, heal thyself!”

With the threat of the Coronavirus, handshaking is now seen as a possible deadly threat. That’s ironic, considering it was originally meant to indicate just the opposite.

History is wobbly about when the practice of shaking hands first began. Some say it started with medieval knights trying to shake loose any hidden weapons up the sleeves of their opponents. Others claim it goes back as far as the 5th century BC as a symbol of peace.

Growing up, I was always told a firm handshake was a sign of a trustworthy man. That might have been the case until politicians learned the trick as well. And some men seem determined to turn a simple welcome into an arm-wrestling contest. What should be a sign of peace instead becomes a show of power.

Two things have made me somewhat of a connoisseur regarding the shaking of hands. One, I’m a pastor whose been expected to do it every Sunday—for over 30 years now. And woe to the minister who misses the hands of one grumpy church member.

But, also, I’m an entertainer. I was performing at a dinner theatre once for six months, the smell of chicken fingers wafting through the air with every show.  Each night, we were contractually obligated to shake hands with every single patron. The number varied, but on some occasions I’m sure I shook over 150 hands in a night. While it sometimes seemed forced, I actually enjoyed the interaction with people.

But now with all our fear, we’re going to retreat even more into ourselves. We’re already way too quarantined. In our evermore remote world, with self-checkouts and prerecorded phone robots, we need personal touch more than ever.

When done respectfully, touch is important. It says, “I don’t want to keep you at a distance. You matter to me.”

Jesus not only healed the lepers, he made it a point to touch them. That said he was willing to take their pain on himself, and on the cross he made good on that promise. 

My favorite miracle was when he spit into the dirt and applied the mud to a blind man’s eyes. Who in the world would record such an event unless it had really happened? 

Jesus also said, “Let the little children come to me” in a culture where they were treated as a nuisance. That said he valued people, no matter how small their power.

So I hope you’ll be careful in the midst of the current cautions not to pull too far away from others. As confounding as people are, we truly need each other. And in these times when we distance each other based on opposing political teams, we need to look for every possible opportunity to come together.

When serving as a jail chaplain, I was called once to counsel an inmate with AIDS, lesions on his face and neck were singularly evident. He wanted a Bible and help to return to the faith of his childhood. He was angry about some very real abuse he’d experienced, often from religious people. And yet, he still heard God calling to him with love, beckoning him to come home.

As I was leaving his cell in the medical unit, I felt the urge to shake his hand. This wasn’t normal protocol in jail, and certainly not with infected patients. But as he awkwardly reached out for my hand, I felt God whisper to me, “Hold onto his hand.” So I did, and looked into his eyes and said, “Your Father loves you and wants you back.”

Someone needs some compassion from you today, too. Someone you’ll come in contact with hasn’t connected with another human in a while. So while using an abundance of caution, let’s be sure we continue to reach out to each other.

And then, make sure to reach for the Purell!

Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash


Dave Gipson
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