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The Power of Hands to Teach

Lately, my hands have been teaching me.

Planning. Planting. Watering. Watching.

Hope. Surprise.

Glowing yellow sunflowers, sheltering tiny sprouts of arugula under their towering stalks.

But before that, my hands taught me something else.

In the early months of 1985, I began working as a nurse in the operating room of our local hospital. Here’s the way the story began:

I’d only been in surgery a few days when an emergency came in and the surgeons needed more help than they had. I was scrubbed, gowned, gloved, and squeezed into the crowd around the table. “Hold this,” a surgeon said, “and don’t move.”

For the next four hours I stood, barely breathing, with my hand wrapped around a man’s beating heart. I was terrified. My feet fell asleep. My back ached. I needed to use the bathroom. And still I stood, with life in my hand.

Finally it was over. The patient was wheeled away to recovery and the surgeons scattered to their busy worlds. 

I went to wash my hands. As I stood at the scrub sink for the second time that day, I was overwhelmed with the certainty that humanity, in all its tremendous complexity and fragility, could not be an accident. What my hand had learned through all those long hours of sheltering a beating heart had taught my own heart the truth of a universe created in Love. 

Lately, my hands have been teaching me again. This time, wrapped around paint brushes. Feeling as if I am holding my own heart beating in a way I have not noticed before. Which feels, in turn, as profound as holding another person’s beating heart!

Pilgrimage is a time for growing.

I thought I signed up for this month-long journey I’ve been on for about two weeks now because I’m intrigued by Shiloh Sophia’s artwork and the symbolism involved in it. Because I became interested in the Black Madonna traditions through things I’ve read over the last several years. Because I wanted to know more about the truth that many scholars call the Divine Feminine.

All of those things are true.

There seem, however, to be other true things as well.

First, I have two granddaughters. Mighty mini women growing and learning by leaps and bounds. Full of questions.

Then, I seem to have been on this journey much longer than I ever realized.

I feel as though I’ve discovered parts of me, of my heart, that I never knew before.

As though I am literally painting my circle of faith larger and more rich in stories and symbols.

And I’m stretching my understanding of history, as well.

It’s exciting. And a little scary. When I stayed safely in my old circles, I knew where I belonged.

If you’ve been reading along for a while, you’ve probably heard me mention one of the most important books in my own journey of learning: Women’s Ways of Knowing. Written by a collection of academic types, this volume explores the ways in which women regard individuals and institutions with authority and what they accept as true, or not.

The fifth of these ways of knowing is called constructed knowledge. According to the authors, it is “an effort to reclaim the self by attempting to integrate knowledge that [women] felt intuitively was personally important with knowledge they had learned from others ” (134).

There’s more. Lots more. Here’s what we need for today:

“Constructivists become passionate knowers, knowers who enter into a union with that which is to be known…personal knowledge as…the passionate participation of the knower in the act of knowing”  (141).

The authors are frank about the observation that it’s not an easy journey. I would agree!

I do feel, in these days, a conscious sense of connection to a universal, archetypal “Mother” in a whole new way, making, as the old story goes, newness out of chaos.

It will probably take me a while to figure out where all this will lead. Except for more painting! I do know though that my hands have led me, yet again, to a place where my world is bigger than it was before. And more true.

Where are your hands leading you?

Oh, just in case you didn’t know…In the Hebrew language, the word for hand and the word for power are the same!

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