In Each Other’s Hands

Mar 22, 2020

By Reverend Rebecca Bryan

Thank you, Alex.  

My remarks this morning are entitled “In Each Other’s Hands. 

Placing my hand down on the page, holding the paper with my elbow, tongue stuck out in focused attention and effort, I would carefully draw with my right hand – tracing the outline of each of my four fingers and thumb. You remember, don’t you? Tracing your hand? When did you last do that? Perhaps you’ve done it while at home over the last several days. 

Did you make a picture of a turkey? Or did you color the fingers in different colors? Maybe you made the picture into a card for your friend or loved one 

Hands. They are remarkable things. We have four fingers and an opposable thumb, meaning the thumb can move towards the fingers and help them to do their work. 

The Women’s and Children’s Health Network taught me (online, of course) that each of our four fingers has three bones, while our thumb has two. Each of our palms has five bones that connect the fingers to the palm. That makes for 32 bones in each of our hands and palms.1 

Hands, like any part of our body, can be blithely overlooked, taken for granted, even not well cared for, until, that is, something changes. We forget to wash our hands and catch a cold or virus. We overuse our hands in typing, knitting, gardening. A finger is broken or in pain from arthritis and unable to be used casually without thought or appreciation. Things change, and then we appreciate what was. It is part of being human.  

Things change. We experience loss or a sudden disruption as we have with the coronavirus. With little warning, there are closures of businesses, schools, and playgrounds. We quarantine, cease gathering in groups, and learn social distancing. Things change, and too late we appreciate what was. Or is it too late to appreciate what was?  

I don’t think it is too late. For the gratitude we are experiencing now, for what was our reality just ten days ago, helps to carry us on as we adjust to the current situation, create a new reality, and return to our previous reality, which is, of course, inevitably and forever changed. 

Leavelle Cox and Polly Young Eisendrath identify five qualities of resilience in their book, The Resilient Spirit. 

  1. The ability to feel and understand the needs of others. 
  1. The ability to compromise and to delay meeting one’s own desires in order to meet the needs of others. 
  1. The potential for creative development. 
  1. Humor – being able to laugh good naturedly at one’s previous mistake or fanaticisms.  
  1. And, wisdom coming to grips with the meaning of one’s life and one’s limitations.2 

Compassion, putting someone else’s needs ahead of, or at least on par with our own, creativity, humor, and wisdom or perspective I see all of those things in action every day. They are happening right now, here this morning.  

Our two congregations came together this morning, as we have done before, this time even more intimately. We are each other’s neighbors, partners, and friends. We are each other’s keeper.  

The First Religious Society just completed a process of updating our mission statement and articulating our core values. I said to the Parish Board and the congregation last spring as we considered doing this congregational project, “We will need these. We have a presidential election coming. There will be anxiety, uncertainty, fear. We will need our values and mission to be clear, so that we can use them to light our path, guide our priorities, and inform our decisions.” Who knew then what we would be experiencing today?   

Our four core values are wonder, authentic connection, love, and courageous action.  

The mission statement is:  

Come as you are 

Journey together in love 

Act with courage 

Transform our world. 

We’ve been focused on these four statements and applying them every day.  

These times call us all to uphold the history, trust the past, and rely on the rhythms that hold us. They also demand that we be open to the opportunities that this time offers us, that we take risks, and that we experience joy anyway. They ask us to be courageous and creative. I see these acts everywhere — neighbors sharing with one another, willing to be changed; businesses doing business differently, even as they struggle with the realities of these times; people coming together virtually across the globe to support one another creating what Nelson Mandela called a “multiplication of courage” in which one individual inspires another and the other inspires yet another and so on.3 

It is a time of using our hands in new ways and old. They can pray, extend a helping hand, and be open to the mystery of each day, even when a finger is broken, arthritic, or missing. For hands are the metaphor for our hearts and minds. Opening, giving, and receiving.  

Jane Hirshfield writes in “A Hand”:  

A hand is not four fingers and a thumb. 

Nor is it palm and knuckles, 
not ligaments or the fat’s yellow pillow, 
not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins. 

A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines 
with their infinite dramas, 
nor what it has written, 
not on the page, 
not on the ecstatic body. 

Nor is the hand its meadows of holding, of shaping— 
not sponge of rising yeast-bread, 
not rotor pin’s smoothness, 
not ink. 

The maple’s green hands do not cup 
the proliferant rain. 
What empties itself falls into the place that is open. 

A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question. 

Unanswerable, humming like bees, it rises, swarms, departs. 

We all hold many questions in our hands right now. When will all this end? What will it mean in the long term? Will my family and friends be okay, financially and otherwise? Will I?   

The questions we hold in our hands change from one day to the next, maybe even one moment to the next. We don’t have all the answers, and that is okay. As long as we hold out our hands to one another, via Zoom, telephone, or a friendly wave from a distance, we will be okay.  

We will be more than okay. We will be changed. We will be more connected and appreciative of it. The authors of The Resilient Spirit write, “The unavoidable mysteries of pain and suffering can give rise to hidden resources of compassion and creativity.”4 

We can choose to be more loving, even after these times have passed. We can carry all that we learn with us as we move forward through these new days and all that is to come.  

Heart to heart. And one day soon, hand in hand, again. 


Questions to ponder, discuss and hold…

What partnerships can you imagine, or have you begun already, in this time of COVID-19?

What three words describe how you feel about this time we are in?

What has brought you joy or comfort over the last week? 

Pin It on Pinterest