We leave Friday morning for Guatemala and that means I probably won’t be posting next Wednesday but it also means something so much better-- for me, at least: I’ll get to see friends I haven’t seen in almost a year. And at the top of my list of things I’m looking forward to in Guatemala is a hug from Miriam Leon.
Miriam is a little shorter than me (this is hard to achieve) but she gives those hugs that just wrap themselves around you. She adds a little dance to it and we both end up hopping up and down, swaying side to side and circling around while holding each other. It’s the kind of hug that makes me smile to just think about it.
I am a hugger. I’m a militant, kama kazi style, unapologetic hugger. During the Passing of the Peace in Church where some shake hands with each other, I invariably hug. I’m lucky to have reached an age where gray hair buys me a lot of leeway, including the ability to hug anyone, anytime, anywhere and not be accused of anything but friendliness.
I have always been pretty much this way. I can remember vividly the day I tried on my wedding dress for the first fitting and asking only one question: would I have enough room to move my arms above my chest and hug anyone I wanted?
One of the reasons I love my husband is that he is perfect hugging height for me. I don’t have to stand on tiptoe or make him lean over.
I discovered hugging as a theological act a couple of years ago and I haven’t been the same since.
I was leaving Pearlington, Mississippi to return home after spending four months working on Hurricane Katrina recovery. I went to say good-bye to friends, very special friends at the Missionary Baptist Church where they had fed us a hot lunch every day (really every day since the recovery first began in September of 2005.) The hardest goodbyes were for Rev and Mrs. Rawls. And Mrs. Rawls gave me a short hug and held me out to get a good look at me. “Why don’t you just stay?” she asked in her gentle voice. I told her I had grandbabies back home and she understood. But then she took me in her arms and I felt her hug all over my body. I felt it on my head, my back, my legs, my arms—it was as though I was totally enveloped. I started to break away but she held me and, for once in my life I had the good sense to just stand there and let her hold me. I will never, ever in my life forget that feeling. It was as though Christ had borrowed Idella Rawl’s arms and held me Himself.
Over the next few months as I remembered how good that hug felt I realized it really was a hug from Jesus.
A few months later I found myself in a tense meeting that included a man who was un-churched. At the end of the contentious meeting I felt the need to break the tension. I grabbed this guy and gave him a big old hug out of my own need for reassurance as much as anything. But then, the next time I met this man he reached out for a hug from me. I realized it had helped him in some way. So I wondered if I could do the same trick for him that Mrs. Rawls had done for me. I tried my best to “channel” Jesus when I hugged him from then on. And it must have worked because that young man never again met me or left me without asking for a hug.
When I was at Synod Youth Workshop last week I sent about 200 or so kids off on a prayer walk through the labyrinth. And every single one of them got a hug from me, mostly because I’m one to assume, “when in doubt, hug.” Some of the boys were in the tiptoe category. That makes for less than perfect hugs. But, on the whole, hugs are just about the best way to express love and affection to just about anyone.
On the last day we had the labyrinth available, Drew Travis, the keynote speaker mentioned that we should meet every person’s eyes as though it was Christ himself looking back. And we should let Christ work through us. Then I remembered Mrs. Rawls’ hug. And how much Shelby seemed to enjoy my hugs in Gulfport.
So I started putting more “Jesus” into my labyrinth hugs and tried to convey the love of Christ to every person I touched. I’ll never know how it felt to the other person. I guess I could ask them. But maybe it’s best left alone. I don’t want a report card on my spiritual exercises.
But it’s starting to become a habit with me. Not the hugging part—it was already a habit, but the putting “Jesus” into the hug. I don't have any guarantees of whether this will change the world but it sure can't hurt anything. Maybe the person it will change will be me.
Check back in two weeks. I never did get the rest of the synod videos to download here. But when I get back I’ll have even better ones from Guatemala to show you. And, for sure, a picture of Miriam Leon.