Friday, January 14, 2011

The Power of Presence

I remember the first time I saw an iPod Touch. I was amazed at the power of one's touch - the ways in which one's fingers could move things on the screen or make a picture larger. I have since received my own iPhone - a tool I use dozens of times each day. It is my fingers that have the capacity to get the most from this phone - my touch moves whatever I need on the screen. Apple does a beautiful job of showing us the power of touch.

I learned last night that there is an even greater power associated with touch. I was completely captivated by a story about Representative Gaby Giffords on ABC news. The physicians were sharing how she had opened her eyes in the presence of her husband and three Congressional colleagues. We were taken to her room where we saw pictures of the Congresswoman's husband holding her hands. On last night's news, Diane Sawyer introduced us to a physician at Duke University who has been studying the power of touch - the power of one's presence. This doctor shared how social isolation in the hospital can be as bad on one's body as smoking. There is something about people being with one who is in need of healing that lowers the patient's adrenaline, allowing the patient to focus on healing whether the patient is aware or not. It does not matter if the person is in a coma, we should keep talking to them, keep assuring them of our presence, keep touching them. It does not matter whether the person is responding to us or not, studies show that our mere presence in a hospital room can make all the difference in the world.

There is power in presence. There are healing elements in our touch. We desperately need to be in community.

One of the common elements of our worship on Sunday mornings is the passing of the peace. At Mount Vernon Place, the passing of the peace often means people getting up from their seats and roaming all over the sanctuary. On some mornings, we have to start playing the piano to get peoples' attention and encourage them to sit down. We love passing the peace. And, I hear about it when we remove this element from our Sunday worship time.

One person shared with me how he gets his week's fill of hugs during the passing of the peace. He shared with me how the ten people who he hugs during these brief moments make all the difference in the world to him. He needs to be touched. He needs to experience the power of community - the presence of people who know and love him.

One of the many abundant gifts the church offers is the power of this touch. There is a priceless community found waiting in our church. We have come to understand how life is not intended to be journeyed alone but rather life is to be experienced with others. When we gather, we see a tangible authenticity that can be hard to find in other places in our city. We work hard to make sure that no one gets out the door without being touched - without being encountered, called by name, and hands embraced in a shake or body held in a hug.

There is something powerful about touch. We all need to be in community. There are healing powers found in being together. Life is not meant to be journeyed alone.


Katie Bishop said...

When I was growing up, my pastor always made us sing the benedictional response while holding hands. When I asked him why, he said, “This might be the only time this week some people in our church are physically touching another person. There is power in touch.” That always stuck with me. Thank for these insights!

kel said...

i've heard people talk about how social isolation is one of the most common & difficult problems when it comes to trying to help people out of homelessness. if people are socially isolated, it's extra difficult to resolve any other problems someone might be facing.