For the past few weeks the lead stories on national news have been this, that, or another public figure who is accused of sexual harassment or assault or rape. It is a sad commentary on our ethical norms as a nation. One would have hoped that we had moved a little further down the moral path than fondling a woman’s breast or genitals and bragging about it. And the arrogance of answering the doorbell in nothing but a bath towel is really rather pathetic. It isn’t just the contempt that assaults women, it is the arrogance that a guy has just the body that every woman wants to see.
I remember when charges of pedophilia amongst Roman Catholic clergy began to gain public notice in 1984. It soon mushroomed into a major public scandal that is not over yet. It has cost the Church over 4 billion dollars to date. I had a very dear friend in Father Marty. He was past the age of retirement but the diocese was so short of priests they kept him on as long as possible. One day at lunch, Marty told me, “I feel like I am carrying the casket of the church with me every place I go.”
In the denominations that I have served, mandatory sexual harassment training continues to this day. Initially the lesson I learned was “touch no one.” I always asked my church secretary to stay behind if a female parishioner had requested a late afternoon or early evening appointment. I kept my office door open. I do not go to the home of a female parishioner alone. I never hold or touch children unless I am in a very public place. I have windows installed in my office doors, even here in the hospital.
And you know what? That is also rather pathetic.
I have had to relearn the value of the human touch. Eye contact and touching are sacred vessels in hospital chaplaincy. Holding hands, hugging, and making the sign of the cross on a dying one’s forehead are holy gestures that convey grace that words alone cannot communicate. Holding the body of a deceased fetus and singing to him, “This Little Light of Mine,” is my sacred office. There are times when I hug a parishioner, or patient, or employee, knowing it is the only human touch they will receive all week. Some people give me a hug as if they are hanging on for dear life.
Sacred touching, even as simple as a pat on the back, is ritual with the power of blessing. It means you are loved beyond your qualifications for being a lovely person. You are embraced when all others would flee from you. You are blessed, not so much as by this chaplain, but by the very love of God. I just happen to be the available arms and hands of God.
I believe this is the kind of touching the world is desperate for. We have had too much groping, too much hitting, too much spanking and slapping. We yearn for the gentle touch of God’s mercy with no other agenda than kindness. And I dare say, even sex offenders yearn for the hand of God when all the world would hang them by their gonads.
This is what I have learned over the past thirty years and what I am ready to risk. I make no excuses for predators, but neither will I deny the kiss of grace. I, like every other human being, have fallen short of the glory of God, and I am blessed that God’s fingers have swooped me up when all others were scolding.
Chaplain Gary Blaine, D.Min., provides Pastoral Care at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital.