In my previous post, I wrote about the imagery of thorns in our sides, and what that might have to say to us about extremism within our communities, and neighbourliness that can embrace difference.
But extremism is not the only aspect of community that causes us pain. Indeed, it is impossible to live with others without being hurt, intentionally and unintentionally.
At Sunderland Minster we regularly host art installations. The current work includes two large-scale hands carved from wood, by local artist David Gross. One is held up in the sign of blessing. The other is pierced by a nail, driven into the fold between thumb and fore-finger. The hand of blessing is worn smooth to the touch; its cracks and fissures part of its beauty. The impaled hand is fresh and raw, unfinished; it reeks of wood butchered—however skilfully—by a chainsaw.
It is possible to be pierced by others, and withhold blessing from them—or, indeed, turning in on ourselves as wronged victim, to withhold blessing from anyone at all.
But it is not possible to extend blessing with anything other than a pieced hand, a pierced side.
The choice is not, how can we cut ourselves off from those whose difference disturbs us, from those with whom we disagree—in pursuit of greater purity; in pursuit of being more acceptable, more effective—but, will we continue to be a community that chooses to bless others, even though thorns grow up alongside the fruitful harvest?
The thing about an impaled hand is that it opens.
It lets go of whatever it has sought to hold on to for itself, or control for others.
It recognises its need for the ‘other’.
In this way, God works to transform something meant for evil, so as to bring forth good.
As someone who wanders around town in a vicar’s collar, I am regularly stopped by people who ask me to bless them. By people who have reason to hate the Church for its thorns, but nonetheless long for God to bring good out of their lives. It is not possible to bless without recognising something of their wounded nature, and my own.
The hand stretched out to bless is the impaled hand stretched out in hope of blessing.
You cannot know the one without the other.
Gross’ wooden hands point to another sculptor. They have been a disruptive gift to us.