I hold my open hand outstretched toward a tiny bird. It is full of nuts, and I am hopeful the little guy will light on my palm and receive what I have to offer. Sometimes it works. Most often it doesn't. But it is always worth it to try.
An open hand can symbolize many, many things. Held simply open it can mean, as with the bird, that I have something to give; or if it’s empty and held forward, it can also say, “I have need.” Upheld alone and facing forward it can be a simple acknowledgement of hello or goodbye, formal or informal, enthusiastic or reticent. Upheld with the other hand it can be a figurative or literal sign of resignation or surrender, “I give up,” a show that my hand hides nothing that can threaten the one to whom the signal is made. Angled at my side, palms forward, it is a beckoning gesture, a motion that can mean welcome, come nearer, stand by me. Yet waving forward from the elbows it says go away. Palms down it says, “I’m finished, I’m staying put,” or that things have settled. Held high overhead it symbolizes the desire to be chosen, noticed, “Teacher, pick me!” Held palms up at shoulder height it says I don’t know, I’m confused.
Such variability from a simple open hand gesture, sometimes even contradictory! Hello or goodbye. Come or go. I’m staying or I’m coming. I have need or I have excess. I’m settled or I’m confused. I know or I don’t know. And that’s just gestures using an open hand! It’s a pretty diverse appendage.
I hold an open hand outstretched toward God in prayer, hopeful God's presence will light and receive what I have to offer. What is the meaning of my gesture? Is it an offering? A symbol of resignation or surrender? Of confusion or of being settled? Of openness to receive? A welcome? A beckoning that the Object of my prayer advance, that He come nearer? A desire to be chosen? All of these? Especially in times such as our country and church are experiencing now?
We never thought of our hands
as being empty so much as
caught in the act of receiving…
A friend sent me a poem once about a man who had grown up poor, but somehow still provided for, who had lived a simple and unpretentious life. “We had so little,” he said, “that there was no point in our asking God to protect what was ours. We had life and limb, friends and kin, time for play and work. It was enough.”
The poem ended with these lines: “We prayed with our hands open and turned toward heaven. We never thought of them as being empty so much as caught in the act of receiving.”
It’s a lovely image. And perhaps made especially so since the image is of an open hand and not a clenched one...
Lord, let my open hands before You be ones that have something to offer, to You and to others, in these critical times. And let me never, ever see them as empty, only caught in the act of receiving. Amen.
~~RGM, adapted from an old entry in my nature
journal, after a morning on the beach at Hobe
Sound National Wildlife Refuge near Jupiter, FL