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Sight, sound, scent, taste and touch. These are the portals through which we absorb the natural world. For three months now, we’ve been hunkered down at home staring at the four walls, so we’re stimulation deprived. Participating in social exchanges or watching life through our computer screens is not even close to being there. We need face to face. We require touch to touch. Don’t underestimate the need to embrace, not simply life’s basic joys, but more importantly, each other.

We were formed in embrace. The womb, with all its nurturing mystery knew us, enfolded us, long before we were aware. In its singular matrix we were nourished, protected, cherished. We’ve never quite escaped the deep imprinting of that moment, nor our need for it. When embrace isn’t happening, in one form or another, life is out of true. We’re disoriented, lonely, anxious, abandoned; much the climate of our current experience.

Have you seen the heart-rending commercial clip where an ancient matriarch is gazing longingly through the car window at the new-born great-grandchild she is forbidden to touch? Family, visiting a senior in a facility by sitting outside her window, fingers splayed on both sides of the glass? Children, forlorn and confused? These are the images of our times.

A particular scripture vividly struck my spirit and seemed to capture the moment.

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing… Ecclesiastes 3:5

“Refrain from embracing” has been the current mantra. Frankly, I’m sick of it. We’ve become ruled by the world of antibacterials, incessant hand-washing, masks and gloves. While all of this may have been the appropriate response to pandemic, it has left us with a disturbing, unforeseen residual. We’re scared to touch each other! Social distancing and quarantine have made us paranoid of any form of contact. We’ve become judgmental, suspicious, distrustful, morose, manic, guarded and skeptical of touch itself. Dare I say it - we’re completely unhinged! Time to find perspective.

I’m not, as a general rule, a very sentimental person. However, I have to admit that my favorite stories in the Bible center around sagas of long-lost reunion. Firstly, there’s Esau and Jacob. On his way home after 20 years, Jacob is trembling in his boots, truly terrified of the offence and anger he provoked in his brother. He’s convinced Esau will kill him. Instead, the trauma morphs into tremulous, undiluted joy and devotion the first moment they see each other.

…and Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. Genesis 33:4

Then there’s the story of Joseph, finally reunited with the brothers after their betrayal. But the real emotion sweeps us off our feet when Jacob, against all odds, finally holds his beloved son again.

And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive. Genesis 46:29-30 KJV

I am moved by these images. They remind me of how much passion is recognized and released in touching, embracing, hugging, cuddling, wrestling, holding. To embrace with completely unabashed vulnerability and passionate fervency is an act of such healing, it can hardly be described. So, I ask you. In our quest for physical safety, have we sacrificed our souls?

Recently, in the thick of it all, a friend and I had an errand to the house of another. As we drove there, I warned her “I don’t know what to expect – we may just be there for a minute, and yell at each other across the yard. We might not go into the house.” There were vulnerable in the household, so I was respectful of whatever distance my friend chose to impose. We pulled up in the yard, and were hardly out of the vehicle, however, when she showed up at the end of the sidewalk and said flatly “I don’t care! I want a hug”. What a great, life-affirming instant! It soothed my soul.

The “Time to Embrace” is closing in fast. Sweet reunions are on the horizon. The season to start putting ourselves out there again, both physically and psychologically, has come. Let’s be honest. We are desperate for big fat, long, affectionate hugs from each other, whatever age we are. Consider yourself warned: when I see you, I may fall on your neck and weep for a good, long time!

He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee. Job 5:19

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