While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Luke 5:12-13
I am always struck by how Jesus dealt with this leper who asked for healing. Jesus touched him. If there was ever a forbidden act in those times, it was to touch a leper. I think in that very act, Jesus not only healed the man of leprosy, he healed the man’s shame and isolation.
Human touch can be healing.
I was speaking with a client the other day about the long-term effects of maternal bonding and affection. Rather, I was pointing out that the lack of such primary nurture and cuddling can lead to failure to bond, and long-term effects such as feelings rejection and abandonment.
The classic study done in this area was that of Harry Harlow, who used macaques for some of his studies. The baby macaques were separated from their mother, and the mother was replaced by either a wire framework that resembled an adult macaque mother, or one with cloth that gave warmth and comfort to the touch. The babies gravitated to the “cloth mothers”, searching for reassurance and affection. The babies deprived of the “cloth mothers” grew up isolated socially, and unsure of their place in the framework of the macaque community.
The studies were controversial due to later questions of ethics, in that the treatment of the animals could be considered cruel and inhumane. Some other studies of Harlow were also somewhat dubious in their approaches, but some valuable information was gleaned from the studies.
The need for touch and warmth at the earliest possible time in life is essential for attachment and proper development of affection. We learn very quickly that we need loving touch to survive in this world. We learn, even before we have language, or brain capacities that are cognitively aware of our surroundings, that human touch is essential. It gives security in a world that is completely unknown. The earliest sensations of warmth and cuddling are critical in our development.
Let’s not diminish the need for physical touch and affirmation as we grow. While some people need such affirmation more than others, all of us need the grounding and anchoring, and indeed the validation that we physically need one another’s touch.
So, if you are a “hugger”, get your daily hug from your loved ones. It is good for you and them!
Prayer: Lord, you have given us the gift of healing, even in a loving touch, Amen