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Hands have a way of shaping the history of where we’ve been: from the dimpled hands of a toddler mouthing everything in her reach, to the sinewy hands of a laborer plying his trade, to the willowy hands of a dancer enhancing her art, to the knowing hands of a father responding to his wiggly children.

And then there are other hands among us, set aside for matters of the spirit: those of the Jesuit priest James Keegan come to mind. He suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease in a retirement home in Weston, Massachusetts. Decades of holding the Body and Blood of Christ during Mass, of holding the tormented sharing of others, of teaching others how to listen to the troubled, of holding on to his God in the face of debilitating illness that will culminate in death—all have marked his “scarred hands” with wisdom.

And even more significantly is the slim volume of his poems, These Hands (2017), drawn from the crucible of of his life. Nothing escapes his attention. The hands of his chaste spirit forage for precise words until the sought-for image bursts into consciousness and pleasures his readers. Such is God’s work firing his imagination and ours.

His concluding poem, And Give Our Best to Uncle, contains such a moment: “Before my teeth fall out/ and more joints start to click/ like a metronome collecting silence,/ I want to say, ‘I love you,’ once/ and have it understood/ the way the mirror/ understands my face.”


These Hands by James M. Keegan is available on Amazon. Even the book’s cover suggests a resurrection sunrise.




Helplessness, searing bone pain, and fog-brain reduced me to total dependence upon others following last summer’s fall. It also shut down my egoic mind: I was no longer in control—of anything. Suddenly many helpers filled my waking hours; their cues prompted my snail-like return to life.

Dreams of healthy functioning gave way to long hours of exercise atop my bed. Indeed, they became a prayer, of sorts, while therapists eyed my weekly progress and urged more challenging stretches. My leg muscles, atrophied from the hip surgery, began to wake up. My elbow and shoulder stiffness lessened. I could dress myself again. Even neighbors applauded my progress during supervised walks with my cane around the court.

However, all this changed the morning of July twenty-ninth when I awoke to a one- inch-discrepancy in the length of my legs that skewed my balance. There followed a modified exercise program, chiropractic adjustments, and healing massages. After weeks of no change, I consulted my surgeon. An x-ray revealed the displacement of the three pins in my hip, and more surgery was indicated.

During the lengthy work-up of tests and x-rays, I again shut down. Within the ensuing silence I discovered I was still controlling my return to health. Somehow, my Healing Presence was taking orders from me. And when the November first surgery was rescheduled to the seventeenth, I finally surrendered.

The irony of this experience was not lost on me: Unfolding within the wake of last summer’s fall have been untold spiritual riches I probably would have not experienced had I been well enough to attend my annual retreat on the New England coast. Perhaps next September …



Who is this old woman, her back to us? Her mussed white hair gathered at the nape of her neck? Her plaid jacket dwarfing her sloping shoulders? Her ample pelvis, stretched at having birthed children? Her strong soiled feet? Her right knee cushioned by one of her down-at-the heels flats?

Where is she? Some industrialized city? Some Third World country? Our Own?

Why her recourse to underground murky waters?

She stoops over something–perhaps her washing. One item, already wrung out, sits in the pink basin to her left. Perhaps the lavender box contains soap powder. It is empty. Yet, there she is, on her knees, alone, her hands working on something in front of her. Hardship appear to be her familiar; it just is.

This story-scene, accessed from Photo Pin, jars my sensibilities. Should my circumstances change, will I humbly accept my lot?

I often wonder.


Available on Amazon

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