… in the holding of hands

Published on 19 Dec 2016
Credit Wikimedia Commons

I shall never forget that Christmas. My friend had been taken ill on Christmas Eve afternoon and I had spent the rest of the day in A&E with him, waiting and listening anxiously to the occasional doctor or nurse before he was transferred to a different ward. 

Now it was Christmas Day and I was sitting beside my friend’s bed waiting to see the consultant. Fortunately my friend’s situation wasn’t too serious but he could not be discharged until the consultant had seen him. We could do nothing at all but wait together. It was obvious from the start that my friend could well be in hospital for days! It was an experience of powerlessness such as I have not often felt. My friend could not speak and was very tired. I was soon bored and aware that I was missing Christmas dinner back home. Time seemed to stretch out interminably. The only thing I could do was be with him and hold his hand to let him know that I was there. We sat like that for hours, my friend and I. His hand in mine.

Somehow or other God showed up. He was in the holding of hands. That sitting and being there started to become significant: a sacrament even, pointing to some deeper, forgotten reality. Suddenly the realisation came to me that this Christmas, here was Jesus in a way I hadn’t expected or been prepared to meet him: tangibly, intimately, as humanly as was possible in the body of my friend and, somehow, also in me. I could feel his hand in mine. Or was it my hand in his? Either way, Christ was here and now incarnate, in this hospital ward, at this bedside.

With that shift of consciousness, the sense of powerlessness slowly gave way to peace, and then to a deep and unexpected joy. That time waiting, which before had seem wasted or pointless, was transformed into a gift, utterly precious and pregnant with meaning, even though outwardly my friend’s situation had not improved and we still had to wait. As we sat there, God held my friend and held me and, for that time, it was enough.