There’s a bronze statue of John the Baptist by Rodin in one of the hallways of the Philadelphia Art Museum that mesmerized my little brother as a child. By instinct he reached out to touch it. He was so entranced he didn’t hear the words “Step back” when the security guard spoke and his eager hand almost made contact with John’s, which seemed perfectly poised to hold it.
John the Baptist’s security guard has to be vigilant to make sure that Rodin’s statue doesn’t wind up like the one of Saint Peter in Rome. This six hundred year old bronze piece sits in a marble chair perched on a pillar holding the keys to heaven in one hand and blessing all who enter his Basilica with the other. Both of dear Peter’s feet are nearly worn away by perhaps billions of pilgrims from hundreds of centuries reaching out to touch and even kiss them. The tenderness of this gesture reminds me of Pygmalion kissing his marble statue and finding her lips suddenly warm with life. If any bronze rendering could be brought to life from love, Peter’s worn away toes attest it would be his.
Why do we have this deep need to touch beautiful and astonishing things? St. Peter has literally rubbed off a little on everyone who touched him; is that what we’re hoping for? When I reached out to touch the ring in a giant sequoia stump that roughly marked the year when Columbus landed at Hispaniola, or when you traced the stone engraved name of someone killed on September 11th at the memorial fountain, were we trying to find a bridge to cross over eons and tragedy? And that time my two year son toddled off through the parking lot to grab a low hanging full moon, was it because his eyes stirred a longing in him only touch could fill? And even now when you think of it, wouldn’t it be wonderful to kiss the face of the moon?
Jesus knew all about our sometimes desperate need to touch especially those things that can’t be touched, perhaps love itself being chief among them. Aware that words, no matter how wise or beautiful, would not be enough, just before his arrest and execution, Jesus put wine and bread into our hungry hands and said, “This is me with you until the very end.”
I think learning about Jesus starts in your body with an open palmed confession of need. The bread placed in your hand is ordinary and nothing much, but it will feed you and make you hungry at the same time. And when you come back and then back again, like water on a stone, the bread, the cup and the presence of people with that same need will start reshaping you.
And eventually, some of Jesus rubs off.
Your sister in Christ