A dear friend sent this photo to me a week before I was scheduled for surgery to remove an invasive melanoma on my ankle. The photo was attached to an email with the words, "The pic shows you being held in a big, caring hand - let's call it God's." My friend then added, "ps: does God really have silver fingernails? Fingers? Hand? Incredible! pps: why not? God can have hands any color God wants."
I've spent a lot of time thinking about God and God's hands in recent weeks. Knowing that you have a form of deadly cancer attached to your body does all kinds of things to your mind and spirit. I've pondered who I want to be at my bedside caring for me. I've planned parts of my funeral and know who I want to preach the good news that day. I've imagined the legacy I want to leave behind.
It's a compelling quest to live as though you are dying. I'm convinced it's how we should all live all the time because it forces us to focus on what really matters - to seize life by the horns as if we have no tomorrow in the most faithful way possible.
But it's an even more powerful thing to ponder God. Who exactly is God? I grew up singing a song called "He" - a song I have not been able to sing since seminary when I first learned that God transcends gender. The song includes lyrics about how God can do anything including calming the stormy sea. I believe God is all powerful and all knowing - one who knows us so well that God is acquainted with every thought and emotion we experience, knowing what's on our tongues before we even say a word. I also believe God is with us - that God is Emmanuel.
But I struggle with what it means to be held by God.
I've never touched God's fingers. I don't know if they are silver, black or gold. I don't know how big God's hands are even though I grew up singing another song about how God has the whole world in God's hands. There are parts of me that can identify with the poet Rainer Maria Rikle who said:
You, God, who live next door -
If at times, through the long night, I trouble you
with my urgent knocking -
this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom.
Have you ever heard God breathe?
Have you ever been close enough to God to feel God's lungs filling with air?
I have not.
But I know God is at work. I know God lives. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is with me. I've seen God at work in real and powerful ways. I don't believe God has silver hands - but I have seen the hands of God show up in profound ways. The events of the last few weeks have convinced me that it's impossible to know and experience God outside of community. Miracles do not happen because of God alone. Miracles happen when people unite with God, offering their time, talent and resources to be part of God's efforts to heal and restore the sick and brokenness of the world.
What does it look like to be held by God?
It looks like a group of four clergywomen preparing a healing service on a screened-in porch where an ordinary table becomes a sacred altar, where bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ and where baby oil is transformed into healing ointment that reminds you of four women who would do anything to journey with you no matter where that journey might go.
It looks like a church family allowing you to anoint them with healing oil, offering prayers for healing and wholeness before the entire community turns towards you four days before your surgery and places dozens of hands on each inch of your body as one person offers a prayer of healing on behalf of the body.
It looks like a prayer request being posted on Facebook - a request that goes viral until over 9000 people have seen it with dozens of people offering thoughts of gratitude and promises to pray.
It looks like people coming into your home, showing up with hearty meals made with love and gift bags overflowing with magazines, chocolate, candy, notes, Gatorade, fresh fruit and countless other items.
It looks like a delivery person ringing your doorbell and handing over balloons and fresh flowers with notes that inform you of how you're being held in the thoughts and prayers of many.
It looks like people covering for you - doing everything they can to make sure people are blessed and hear the word of God when they come for worship and you're not there.
It looks like colleagues looking you in the eye and saying, "Seriously, you have a lot of people who love you and would do anything they can to help you during this time.
It looks like cards coming in the mailbox from people who actually took time to write.
It looks like phone calls and texts that come before surgery, during surgery and after surgery.
I am more whole than I have been in a long time because God has showed up on my computer screen, in my office, and in our home - not in the form of a giant silver hand but in the hearts, hands, voices and feet of countless individuals who are showing up as part of the body of Christ.
Thank you for holding me in such powerful ways.