What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. 1 John 1:1-4
“Did y’all do okay in the storm?” I ask Joy as we wait for directions in unloading relief donations. Joy retains her Taiwan accent, though not her citizenship. She and her husband raised their children in the United States.
“Yes. We all fine but so many tree down in our yard. One really big one. I’m happy to toucha it.”
What does she mean?
“Is a really tall tree, so I canna touch it, you know the top. I put my hands on it and feel it.”
She sees my confusion.
“I see the tree when it standing but I canna see it close. I canna lay my hands on his branches.”
Joy’s tree stood in their yard season after season witnessing the maturing of her children. Joy is not satisfied with a binocular view of distant limbs without dimension or context with the rest of the tree. Like people who visualize with their fingertips, the prospect of running her hands over out-of-reach branches delights Joy. Her intimacy with this tree begins to fascinate me too.
I walk to one of these fallen pines and study its upper branches now scrutable on the dirt. Like Joy, I must touch it, but after a while I cannot feel it anymore. I lose the sense of texture and temperature unless I stroke it. Encircling a small, upper branch in my palm, I slide against its newer, softer, bark. Unlike the cragged and plated armor of the huge trunk, the bark of baby branches is layered as if with sheaves of paper, and as the branches narrow towards their ends, diamond-shaped scales similar but smaller than those on pine cones, interlock to form yet another type of bark. I run my fingers through the locks of needles at the terminus of the branches, and pine scent layers the air. The suppleness of the needles after a week without moisture surprises me. I never imagined I could learn so much from this closer encounter.
The experience turns my thoughts to the parallel of Jesus dropping to earth where people could examine Him too, though He came by choice. People like me could feel the warmth and realness of his skin. They could smell Him and exchange smiles with the living God. He became one of us so that we could lay our hands on Him. He gave Himself so that we could have access to God.
Jesus is not bodily here anymore, so I cannot sense him in the same way I experience the pine tree. Like a person who must rely on the sense of touch to form an image of a person in their mind, I use a spiritual sense of touch as I search scriptures, tracing my fingers over Jesus’ face in scenes from the Gospels. His eyebrows furrow in frustration at the disciple’s dullness in understanding. Creases starburst from the corners of His eyes when children scramble up his knees and pull his beard. Tears stumble down his face as he overlooks Jerusalem.
The Old Testament provides a backdrop which places Jesus in context rather than in a binocular view. As I read scripture, my thoughts move over His actions and words to see his outline and know his depth. I move my hands over His in prayer, and God’s Spirit interprets the texture and aroma of His messages to fill in the empty spaces of my understanding. Actively engaging the Bible stimulates my senses to discover God’s intelligence and the wonder of his beauty like running my hands along the bark of the pine. He who is taller than trees bends His leafy head that I might touch and know him. Like the perching in the tops of trees looking out over streets into the whole sky, Jesus, shares His perspective with me.
Make me know Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Psalm 25:4