I was talking to a friend yesterday about Henri Nouwen; which got me to thinking about Nouwen's classic book about love and service, The Wounded Healer; which got me to thinking about an experience I had in church on Easter Sunday.
But first of all I have to tell you about my birthmark.
I have a vascular birthmark that covers half of my right hand. It's not a big deal...oh, it was a big deal when I was a newborn and my hand was swollen into a huge, angry-red balloon; and when I was in elementary school I remember being extremely self-conscious about my birthmark, praying to God to heal it. Now it's not all that noticeable unless you're up close and personal, and apart from a slightly decreased range of motion in my little fingers -- not even enough to slow down my keyboarding -- it doesn't give me a problem. Frankly, it wouldn't be on my short list of personal extreme makeover projects.
After I was born my maternal grandmother had told my mother that I'd been specially marked by God; while that statement I'm sure had more to do with maternal psychology than theology, in the long run I believe my birthmark really has been a kind of gift. I think it helped me develop a sense of empathy for "different" people at an early age. I think over the years it's been an effective jerk detector; I find that people who can handle my birthmark tend to be good friend material, while people who can't handle it tend to have a skin-deep mentality in other areas of life as well. My birthmark is even a good conversation starter (really); healthcare professionals especially are fascinated by my hand.
But I don't think about it too much. And I wasn't thinking about it at all on Easter Sunday, sitting near the aisle in one of the front pews, waiting to assist with the Eucharist. Next to me were a young family who've been coming to our church for a few months now; they have a couple of charmingly irrepressible little girls who are just a hoot, often doing extemporaneous junior theology with our pastor during the service. (And they're good at it; they get it.)
The point came in the service where we share the peace of Christ with one another. I automatically held out my hand to the dad, who was sitting next to me; he held out his hand, then paused, looking down. Uh-oh, I thought, suddenly recalling this scenario being played out countless times throughout my life; he has a thing about shaking my hand.
I followed my eyes down to my hand and his hand, poised in mid-air.
His hand was missing several fingers.
We glanced up again; our eyes met, just for a moment.
We shook hands, strongly.
I think this might be what they mean by "being the Church."