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Hands enhance life’s experiences: dimpled hands of a toddler mouthing everything within reach, sinewy hands of a laborer plying his trade, willowy hands of a dancer enhancing her art, knowing hands of a father responding to his children.

Other hands are set aside for matters of spirit: those of the Jesuit priest James Keegan come to mind. Decades of holding the Body and Blood of Christ during Mass, of holding others’ torments, of holding words until matured into images, of holding spiritual directors under his care, of holding his God in the face of debilitating illness that culminated in his death—all marked his scarred hands with an uncanny beauty.

Its reflection is found in These Hands (2017), the slim volume of his poems drawn from the crucible of his lifelong humble service. Nothing escaped his attention: seascapes, seasons, people, animals, death, even his Parkinson disease. His chaste spirit foraged for precise words until the sought-for image burst into consciousness, imbued with humor and compassion. Within each poem shimmers an intimacy toward something larger than life. He, too, played with words during his final days, sourced by his Creator. Such fired his imagination and now surprises his readers with “Ah!” The book’s cover suggests this response.

Keegan’s 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.”

 Such a relationship he had with his God…

“By all means, we’ve got to stay happy! Whatever we can do to keep it going …” she gushed as another chimed in with a joke about hand washing. This morning’s talk show hosts chuckled as they described neighborhoods putting up Christmas lights and chalking driveways and sidewalks with pastel hearts and flowers.

In my perception, such attitudes miss the mark. Many experts also tout keeping busy with on-line work from home, home schooling, home-improvement projects, and keeping track of the pandemic’s swath of global mayhem. In between times, social media assuages social loneliness and fills empty time. Netflix and television dull the urgency of the questions: When will we return to normal, however construed? Will things be different? Will I lose out? How will I manage?

Such busyness frays the fabric of the global community, already dangerously thin with violence and addictive behaviors.

Glaringly absent from this scenario are silence and prayer, and the fact of death, ours included—just relegated to numbers of the stricken on graft charts in states, distant from our own. Such shudders get lodged within stress.

So how quell this inner turmoil and enter the silence of prayer? How let it speak to the grievous circumstances in which we find ourselves? It’s only important to want it, deeply, and to begin. Within our depths, a dear Friend wants our hearts, however scarred.

Psalm 56:11, 13 speaks to such a relationship: …in God I put my trust, fearing nothing…for you have rescued me from Death to walk in the presence of God in the light of the living.

 

 

 

Creator God of ever-expanding universes, be mindful of Planet Earth’s contagion that seeks new hosts to infect, new reversals to upend, new spirits to crush. Protect us from whoever or whatever foisted this ghoulish scourge upon us.

Continue deepening our willingness to contain its spread, whatever the cost. Continue humbling us before its enormity whose duration lies in the unknown. Continue prodding our conscious participation in each twenty-four hours. Continue helping us be mindful of others and their needs.

Our lives and livelihoods hang in the balance of this global upheaval, fraught with dark wisdom. From this crucible of suffering must emerge fresh paradigms for more meaningful care for each other and for Planet Earth.

Help us become aware of these patterns as they surface and practice them. We renew our trust in Your gift of Life: each moment, so precious.

Amen.

 

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