I think by now Harvest knows I'm a hugger.
I do it every Sunday and even encourage them to do it too.
I say what I always say when leading worship: "As we prepare to meet and greet each other, I want each of you to get at least three Holy hugs, cause hugging does the body good!"
The first time I did it, I think it caught the congregation off guard, but they did it just the same, although cautiously. They had never been invited to hug their neighbor before, even though the neighbor might have been their husband, wife, daughter, son, grandchild or the church member and friend they see each week.
But they accepted the challenge and commenced to hugging.
And in doing so, I began to notice something as the weeks progressed. I began to see members expect it, maybe even look forward to it. I started to notice the heightened laughter, wider grins and more outstretched arms beckoning for an embrace or open to offer a slight squeeze or even a full on bear hug. I started seeing more people scurry across the room to greet a face they had not seen before. I noticed a more receptive spirit, an unencumbered spirit.
I started noticing this eclectic bunch from all sorts of backgrounds, including those who had been churched, unchurched, Catholic, Presbyterian, United Methodist and United Church of Christ, transform into this bubbling group of what I now call, "happy huggers" who find that a simple handshake just won't do. One church member shared that she felt it gave them permission to do what had become somewhat of a socially unacceptable practice. I think she's right.
Needless to say, I love kicking off worship this way. I think it puts everybody in a more open frame of mind ready to receive what God has for us to hear that day. Because after all, hugging does release those brain endorphins in our body -- said to be more powerful than heroin or morphine -- which generate those feel-good, happy feelings.
Now, mind you, I haven't always been a hugger. Nor was I always receptive to the embrace, particularly when it was introduced by one of my former pastors. It just wasn't something I grew up doing. But now that I've read the reports and practiced it myself, I've been converted. I guess you could say I'm on a mission to convince others they too should become a happy hugger or at least one who is a bit more open to sharing a simple touch.
I was reminded this week of how powerful a simple touch can be. I was visiting a woman in the hospital who told me she has no family here in Sarasota, save for her husband, who is suffering from dementia. She has no children to speak of or family that is remotely close to Florida. They all reside in Michigan. As we talked, she shared with me how alone and deserted she felt. "God has forgotten about me she said," as tears rolled down her cheeks. "After all I have done. I was a nurse for more than 30 years. I helped people and was a good person and now God has left me!"
She shared her feelings of hopelessness with me and doubts that she would survive her illness. She suffers from bad kidney's, which were beginning to shut down and had water around her heart. She feared she would die in the hospital without seeing her husband again and worried who would care for him in her absence. But more than anything, she said," I just wish someone would come by from time-to-time and hold my hand!"
In the midst of all her complications from a body that was badly bruised and seemed to be turning on her, she wanted most to feel the touch of another human being. She needed to be comforted and reassured. She needed to know that someone cared. That's when I was reminded of the healing power of a touch. And that's when I reached out and grabbed her hand, caressing it gently.
I read in an article that a touch is "like the Internet," in that "it allows high-speed access to another soul." That's what Jesus calls all of us to do, provide that access to soothe another's soul.
Jesus did it when he reached out and physically touched the man covered with leprosy, who had likely not been touched in years. And it was the same touch Jesus gave that restored the sight of the two blind men and healed Peter's mother-in-law.
Sometimes the healing, be it physically or even mentally, is in the touch or comes by way of a simple hug. Because it is often in the touch that someone receives compassion, has their dignity restored and comes to understand that they are of value.
Jesus constantly affirms that we are of value and if we are modeling our life after him, we should affirm that in others too!