Healing Embrace

My daughter tripped over a toy in our kitchen the other morning and began to cry. She couldn’t identify where the pain was coming from and was crying more from the shock of falling over than anything else. My natural response wasn't to examine her leg it was simply to give her a warm hug until her tears subsided which the quickly did and she was soon happily playing again. This encounter got me thinking about the significance of embrace in the healing journey for those suffering in emotional and mental distress.

I am a words person, but I have also realised that often words are not enough, sometimes they are completely unnecessary or even unhelpful. Touch often says more than a thousand words, sometimes an embrace is the only way to authenticate what has been spoken. I think about some of the conflict resolution work I do and all the people who talk through their disagreement and then seal their healing encounter with a hug. At the same time this feels like quite an awkward or even unsafe post to write! As a professional I am very conscious of the dangers of broken boundaries and the litigious world in which we live. I tend always to shy away from physical contact; I keep my hands in my pockets and sit in my chair! This is obviously a sensible approach, but sometimes I wonder if we have legislated against a model of healing exemplified by Jesus, whose touch healed the blind man, the bleeding woman and the dead child. And it wasn’t just Jesus:

In Acts 20:10 St Paul goes to the rescue of a young man who has fallen to his death from a window, following a night of lengthy preaching. The text says, “Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Do not be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Paul literally hugged this unfortunate man back to life.

In 1971 Dr John Rosen won the ‘Man of the year from the American Academy for Psychotherapy.’ Rosen is famous because of his highly unconventional approach to the treatment of catatonic schizophrenic patients. Where many experts in his profession at the time had determined that these clients were unreachable Rosen thought otherwise.

Firstly he moved onto the wards with them so that he could live alongside them and ensure they he understood them in their context. Rosen then began systematically hugging these patients. He repeatedly hugged and embraced them, with remarkable results. Many were drawn back from their catatonic state and began to make a significant recovery from their disorder. (Sadly Rosen took a less gracious approach in other areas of his work and hence I am cautious to applaud too loudly!) However, they key point I am wanting to glean from his example is that somehow the embrace connected with the heart in a way that words and even medications could not. The embrace is truly healing.

Someone sent me a really fascinating article posted to the BBC News website about Mata Amritanandamayi who has reportedly hugged at least 21 million people in the past 30 years. Mata’s hugging therapy has given his mystical status in India; however, it appears that her work is that of a simple accepting, affirming and loving embrace. Indeed the BBC reported commented, “The sense of being welcomed and loved, despite being a complete stranger, was amazing”

Our world has become so sexualised that the simplicity of a loving platonic embrace has become something to feared. However, we need to recognise that God has given us the gift of embrace because it is an expression of how he loves us. As I celebrate communion with my church I say the words, “He opened his arms of love upon the cross….” It was in that embrace that we have been healed from the wound of sin, and as we experience the embrace of his church and his people we find the healing touch of God ministering to parts of our mind and emotions that we thought were beyond reach.

Will Van Der Hart, 07/12/2011
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