Monday, 9 February 2015

The Power of Touch

A Homily for Holy Communion on
Monday , 9th of February, 2015, 9 a.m.

for the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Priory, Oxford

Mark 6 53-end

The Power of Touch

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Time to discuss a touchy subject – literally the question of touching. Mine has become, by stealth, something of a touchy-feely generation, still more so the one that has come after. Men and women alike, meeting complete strangers, will hug and kiss like long-lost childhood friends. Those of us who are not tactile in this way, and are more likely to flinch than to luxuriate in the embrace of a stranger, are made to feel that we are missing out on something, even that somehow we are not quite all there. A bit “touched”, perhaps.

But sometimes we can feel vindicated, reading the sad stories of old men who were famous in our childhood being brought to book for inappropriate touching, or worse, long ago. Reading their victims’ accounts, it’s as if not knowing the difference between appropriate and abusive touching, they didn’t know didn’t have the words to reject it. The legacy of these trials is a challenge to the touchy-feely generation to teach the next that there are limits on how far you can go.

Even without those sinister implications, touch can be used abusively, to suggest that all is well – hug and make up – when all is not in fact well. The lie is compounded by making it physical, just as the sin is compounded when our intention becomes action. I’ve been in a group (it was a very right-thinking charity) that was addicted to redemptive hugging – a practice which at times could feel more like the kiss of Judas, because what was wrong was still wrong, and we were pretending a hug had made it all right.

And touch has lately been controversial in our own church – who may or may not properly touch the candidate in an ordination. What is transmitted by that touch? And does it matter who has been touched by the same hands before? I have absolutely no intention of providing answers to these questions, but the answers are out there, and some of them are pretty ferocious.

So that’s why on reading this passage, what struck me first is that the crowds are coming out to touch Jesus, but - and this would be music to the ears of those responsible for what we now call "safeguarding" - notice they were – “begging him to let them touch even the fringe of his cloak”. They ask permission. And he grants it, and they are healed.

The whole of our Eucharist can be seen as that asking permission – “but only say the word, and I shall be healed” – leading to the moment of Holy Communion in which we fulfil our pilgrimage and stretch out our hands to touch the incarnate God, in bread and wine.

Dare we say that then we are healed, like the crowds who came to Jesus? The Good News must surely be that we at least glimpse – no, we touch – the possibility of that healing which makes all things new.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
February 2015


  1. I don't mind a hug, but by invitation. Indiscriminate hugging can be intimidating and offensive. People I've know for years might get a handshake or peck on the cheek, others a little more. But only at their invitation. The peace can be chaos if we hug everyone. We need so harmony, but this might be taking it a bit too far.

    1. I've never minded hugging anybody and especially not fellow-worshippers during The Peace. I do know, however, that there are people,especially males,who find it so off-puttingly un-British that they stay away from Church. Counter-productive or what ? In training as a guider,youth leader and teacher it was,made clear to us that one does not hug or cuddle other people's children unless it's absolutely certain they need it,such as if they've had an accident or been given bad news. It was a matter of discipline and decorum rather than fear of being accused of anything. It was also part of showing the young what behaviour to expect from unrelated adults. I don't know what boys are taught at home,but when I was a child, in addition to 'put your coat on when it gets cold,be careful crossing the road, say "please" and "thank you",don't accept sweets from strangers,' mothers of girls said, 'Don't pull your knickers down.'. It's noticeable that the complaints of abusive touching seem to come in large part from those who were not at the time in stable homes where appropriate shows of affection were learned. We knew it was normal for Mummy or Daddy to tuck you in and give you a goodnight kiss,but it went without saying that if Akela or Miss Jones do it there's something odd going on.