Touch

I love kissing the cross almost as much as I loved kissing the Torah at Simchat Torah. I’ve participated in the ritual twice, and each time I was blinking back tears.  Sure, I have secretly caressed my Complete Works of Shakespeare, the pale green hardback one that all the English majors have.  But the Bible I was most attached to, a leatherbound one that my godparents had embossed with my name in gold, with tissue-thin pages and the handwritten notes of all the dates I copied the Psalms, this I left behind in a national forest in New Mexico.  The one I use now is for study, good notes, good translation– but I don’t love it.  Passing around a book, a text, sacred words, and actually kissing them. Someone hands me the scrolls, which are ponderous, physically and emotionally– if you drop them, restorative rituals are required, and you sure don’t want to be the goy to invoke that mess.  Heavens.  Precious stories. For a writer, for someone who never sleeps more than a foot away from a book, it’s unbearably satisfying.

In a church, this would become idol worship. Already, too many Protestants worship the Bible instead of God. “It says it right here…” they all begin, while eating breakfast bacon and charging usurious interest and touching menstruating women and wearing poly/cotton. In a temple, it is different. The text is precious in a way I find equally intimate and foreign. Some people who are Muslim memorize the entire Koran, or all the names of God. Peoples of the books. I waited my turn on Good Friday, knelt, kissed my hand and touched the cross.

You have to pre-wash your feet, of course. No one goes up to footwashing at the cathedral with authentically dirty feet. Perish the thought. This year, mine were washed by a choir member wearing a fuschia robe, and I washed the pale, cool feet of a twentysomething woman I’d never seen before. The water is always warm, poured from a pitcher into an earthenware bowl on the polished wooden floor of the cathedral. Such awkwardness and such bareness in such a formal place. My feet were washed, my feet that touch the precious earth, the ground of my hometown.

Much as I might bemoan it and insult it, my hometown where I am welcome and protected, rather regularly embraced for effort rather than dismissed for clumsiness. A place that provides me with the cheap rent for a gorgeous space, a calm commute, and amicable neighbors. This town make it feasible for me to do challenging work, on the page and in the classroom. How often have I left this ground unappreciated. How often have I insulted my feet, my connection to the earth and the ground, with poorly made shoes pounding too long on cobblestones and street grates. Always coming home from vacation with blisters.  Choosing loveliness over their health.  The way I touch the ground should be clean, lacking any resentment, and I should wash myself, and wash others, and let them wash mine again.  There’s a lot of touch during Holy Week, awkward, earnest reaching.  Painful times invite it.

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