Thursday, October 20, 2011


Often defined as "an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace," sacrament is understood in Christianity as vital and necessary to that particular way. Roman Catholics state there are seven: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Matrimony, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. Protestants hold only two: Baptism and Communion/Eucharist. Some groups prefer the word ordinance as opposed to sacrament.

Although you will never find it on a traditional list of sacraments, I suggest there needs to be another one; the sacrament of touch.

I was first introduced to this idea in the early 1970's when I was working a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) unit at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas. As a part of this kind of "on-the-job-training," we served in the role of chaplains for the hospital. We visited patients, wrote up patient encounters and then critiqued them, attended case conferences and lectures. One of our lecturers was an old Catholic priest. Instead of standing behind a lecturn, he asked that we arrange our chairs in a circle and he joined us therein. I remember him as a crusty fellow, salty in his language, blunt in his statements. If one had gotten close to him, my guess is that the aroma of good scotch could have been detected. He focused for me that day a consideration I have never forgotten when he said, "the most sacramental thing you can ever do is to touch." In that setting, of course, he was urging us to touch the hand or shoulder of the patient as we visited. But I knew he meant that it must be applied on a much broader scale.

Over the years I have sought those ways when I thought a physical touch might help and be appropriate. (I know we must teach our children the difference between "good touch" and "bad touch.") And I have discovered that almost always, the person in front of me responds favorably to that kind of approach. Some, at first, have almost recoiled and it becomes apparent that it has been way too long since they have been so attended. Then they relax and invite one more into their inner circle.

A handshake, a pat on the back, an embrace - touch takes different forms. But it conveys, as do few other expressions, that what happens to you makes a difference to me. I am here with you. I will help bear your burden.

Touch. An outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace.

1 comment:

  1. I preached on that very subject last week. Well-said my friend. Right on the money, as usual. Blessings...