Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The wonders and terrors of touch

It started as a straightforward presentation, with the usual statistics and PowerPoint slides. 

Holly Routley from Okanagan College had come to to raise awareness -- and funds, of course -- for a new Health Sciences complex.

            Then Holly did something unexpected. While speaking, she stepped down from the podium and began to massage the neck and shoulders of a young woman near the front.

            I heard an audible gasp. Because in our culture We. Just. Don’t. Do. That.


Out of bounds

            We have become so afraid of touching another person that we suck in our hips if we have to sit beside a stranger on a bus. We apologize if we bump someone’s elbow at a concert or a ball game. 

            Hugs are okay -- as long as we let go immediately and re-establish a safe distance between us.

            But Holly made contact deliberately, to make a point. Nursing is a hands-on profession, she explained, “where touch is unavoidable and has scientific benefits. Care providers are with patients in their vulnerable moments and do enter their private space, in a professional and compassionate way.”

            Nursing is one of the few professions where the practitioner has to make physical contact with the other party.

            Teachers can’t do it -- although hundreds of children could use a friendly hug, a pat on the back, or a hand held in an unfamiliar situation.

            Cops can’t do it, or they’ll be charged with assault.

            Bosses can’t do it with their employees, or vice versa, because, well, you know…

            And just try to imagine your bank manager discussing your investment portfolio while massaging your feet.


Too strong to risk?

            And yet touch is so essential to our humanity.

            When I thought my father was dying, I sat beside him on his hospital bed, held his quivering body next to mine, and stroked his hair. I hadn’t been that close to him in 60 years.

            We are all awed by holding a baby in our arms.

            Research studies have shown that compassionate touch increases our bodies’ levels of serotonin and of T-cells -- the immune system’s guards. Conversely, lack of touch can lead to anxiety and depression in both adults and children.

            Four of our physical senses are socially acceptable. We’re allowed to use sight and sound, smell and taste, to make sense of our world. But we’re afraid of touch. Even though our skin is by far our largest sensory organ.

            We are not abstract minds burdened by physical appendages. We are whole bodies.

            But because touch has been sexualized -- by a few individuals who abuse it, and by movies and TV shows that exploit it -- I dare not reach out and take someone’s hand, or touch their cheek, or rub their shoulders, without risking accusations of sexual harassment.

            Why is it okay for me to pay for a massage, but not to offer one?

            Why is it okay for a woman’s voice to caress me, but not her fingertips?

            Or is touch actually the most powerful of our senses, and so we are afraid of it? If so, we should be doubly grateful for people like nurses, who have learned to touch without letting it get out of control.


Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





I only received two letters about last week’s column, in which I mused about the incomprehensibility of very large numbers (and also, I might have added, but didn’t, of very large words).


Dawne Taylor responded to my reference to the “Peter Principle” in local politics with a personal story. She wrote, “How true, Jim. I recall sitting at a City Council meeting (of an unnamed city) waiting to present a budget. I was appalled that the Council, with practically no discussion, okayed a purchase for a large item (over $30,000). But they hemmed and hawed over whether to purchase two additional electric typewriters. Yes, it was a long time ago! 


And Frank Martens, this column’s resident atheist, send a video clip by Graham Hancock, a British author and reporter who specializes in pseudoscientific theories involving ancient civilisations, stone monuments or megaliths, altered states of consciousness, ancient myths, and astronomical or astrological data from the past.

            In this snippet. Hancock analyzes the dimensions of the Great Pyramid in Giza. It is, for example, oriented to within 1/60thof a degree to true north – incredible accuracy. Its height is 1/43200thof the polar radius of the planet; the sum of its sides is 1/43200thof the planet’s equatorial circumference. It is, in effect, a scale model of the northern hemisphere – this “at a time when we didn’t even know we lived on a planet!”

            It’s hard to attribute those figures (assuming he’s correct) to pure coincidence. 






The psalm for this Sunday isn’t a psalm at all – it’s Hannah’s prayer of gratitude for having a child who would later be the prophet Samuel. (Mary’s “Magnificat” reflects Hannah’s earlier song.) So I tried to recast it – rather loosely, I admit, and with no personal experience to draw on – as the thoughts of a woman becoming a mother. 


Oh, my God, what’s happening to me?

I feel new life moving within me. 

It kicks my kidneys; it compresses my bladder;

They said it couldn’t happen. 

They said I would never have a child. 

Now they have to eat their words. 


I thought it was my fault. 

I wasn’t trying hard enough. 

I didn’t realize God couldn’t act 

            until I quit trying to run things my way,

            until I quit trying to play God. 


God helps the helpless; the others just help themselves. 


My clock was running out;

Menopause lurked beneath the bed. 

Then it happened -- 

            the divine spark of life!


I don’t know what lies ahead – 

It may be heaven, it may be hell. 

I don’t care; I’m committed. 

I’m committed TO life; I’m committed FOR life. 

There is no turning back now. 

I know, beyond any flicker of doubt, 

That this is what God intended for me. 

My child may be a genius or a dunce,

A cello virtuoso or penniless poet…

But God will watch over her. 

God will give her the strength I cannot give. 


I had lost hope. 

I shall call her Hope. 


For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                  And for those of you who like poetry, I’ve started a webpage http://quixotic.ca/My-Poetrywhere I post (occasionally, when I feel inspired) poems that I have written. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca,  or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blankemail(no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have been blocking my posts because they’re suspicious of too many links.

                  Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                  Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca

                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,”an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

                  Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony”-- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet










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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: touch, nursing, Okanagan College



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