Carved hands

Mar 11th, 2007 | By | Category: Spirituality

Contemplative prayer at church this evening reflected on the words, “I have carved your name on the palm of my hand”, reassuring lines that speak of our nearness to God and God’s nearness to us.

The words have been the inspiration for children’s talks I have done on at least half a dozen occasions. The idea of writing on your hand so that you don’t forget something is immediate and concrete for children (as well as being in defiance of the teacher who would tell you not to write on your hand!).

Barbara, who led our contemplation, invited us to ponder the words, to make them our own. The suggestion of carving evoked pictures in my mind of richly grained wood being shaped by a mallet and chisel.

The picture took shape of a mallet coming down again and again on the chisel. The chisel had been struck so many times that the wood at the top of the handle was splayed out over the ferrule around the end. As I watched the mallet striking the chisel, the grained wood became a human hand and the chisel became a square black crude nail driven repeatedly into the hand. The names that had been carved were driven deep into blood.

It was an alarming image, the safe and reassuring picture being replaced by one of violent cruelty. This was not a picture that I could have used in a children’s talk, but it was a picture of the profound level of God’s love for us in Jesus, the names being driven into his hand being people for whom he died.

I left the church quietly to ponder a disturbing reflection, feeling uneasy that a gentle and domesticated picture of our relationship with God could shift in my mind to something altogether more challenging, and as I walked the words of one of Stuart Townend’s most beautiful of modern hymns drifted into my mind.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
how vast beyond all measure,
that he should give his only Son
to make a wretch his treasure!
How great the pain of searing loss:
the Father turns his face away
as wounds which mar the chosen one
bring many sons to glory!

Behold the man upon a cross,
my sin upon his shoulders;
ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held him there
until it was accomplished,
his dying breath has brought me life—
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
no gifts, no power, no wisdom;
but I will boast in Jesus Christ,
his death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from his reward?
I cannot give an answer;
but this I know with all my heart,
his wounds have paid my ransom.

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