It is said that you can tell a lot about a person by their hands. The common wisdom is that a person’s self-image is revealed in the manner in which they shake hands. One of the oft-told stories in my family is when my then college-aged niece brought home a young man to meet the family and her grandmother. We were all greeted by the “dead-fish handshake,” a weak hello, and eyes cast to one side. The family advice was uniform: dump him. My niece thought we were all a bit judgmental. Perhaps, but let’s just say it was an occasion where experience met prudence. The handshake told us almost everything we needed to know. Several weeks later, our niece came to the same assessment.
What is it about hands? It does seem that the confident person has a solid grip. The arrogant person has an overbearing handshake. The self-conscious person’s handshake lacks a firmness that is noticeable. But there is more than the grip. The nervous or hyper person often reveals it by their constantly twitching hands, and gnawed cuticles or fingernails. You can tell a calm and confident person by the absence of these things. Their hands are slow and steady.
You can also gain insight into the kind of work a person does by their hands. A person who does physical labor usually has rough and calloused hands. Others do delicate work and so their hands are smooth and sensitive. You will hear it said of athletes that they have “soft hands.” This is the opposite of someone who has stone hands. You throw the ball to the one with stone hands and they will drop the ball. You throw the ball to one with soft hands and they seem to welcome the ball like they are holding a newborn baby.
Among the Cherokee people, the hands are thought to be a perfect reflection of the person. As physical labor shows in the callouses on our palms, so does gentleness or greediness or strength. Nothing else expresses human behavior in so many ways. With our hands, we work, play, love, threaten, show joy or grief. Sensitive symbols of faith and friendship, our hands draw to us everything and everyone we love. Marvelously made and directed by the mind’s eye, the mind’s ear, and the heart’s desire, our hands continually express our lives. What words cannot say, the hands can express with all tenderness and love.
I was thinking about hands in anticipation of next weekend when so many of our young folks will be celebrating First Holy Communion. For the first time, they will come with hands extended to receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. Some hands will be extended with confidence, some shyly, and some with the anticipation of that which has long been desired.
And maybe this is a good time for the rest of us to think about our own reception of Eucharist. If hands are the perfect reflection of the person, then what will the hands speak to the Christ we receive? Will it be hands of worry, greed, or occupation with worldly matters? Will they be hands that intentionally reach out for mercy, forgiveness, and the love of God? Will they be “soft hands” that welcome Christ like they are holding a newborn baby?
May our hands, in receiving Christ, open the pathway of our hearts to the Love of God.