Joshua Graves
Exploring the Collision of Culture & Faith
Waking Up to Death: With These Hands
March 4, 2014

My grandfather and grandmother were in town this weekend. They were traveling from Northern Alabama to Northern Ohio with my aunt and they took time out of their trip to visit me, Kara, Lucas, and Finn. Four generations under one roof for one afternoon is magical.

I’ve enjoyed a great relationship with them for as long as I can remember. I have nothing but the fondest memories with them: they attended almost all of our church and sport commitments. I don’t think they missed a basketball game my junior and senior year of HS (that’s my memory at least). Both grandparents are hard-working people. They were the ultimate self-starters. My grandfather worked two jobs by the time he was 14. He ran the family farm and worked in a saw mill. In fact, both of my grandfathers lost their fathers in their youth. That’s something I had never connected until recently.

My grandfather -from the eyes of a child-is tough but gracious, passionate but soft. He always made me feel special. My grandmother and I have a special bond. She likes to say that she was my favorite by which she also means (I infer) that I was her favorite too. She spoiled me. She’s one of my favorite people on Planet Earth.

They both worked incredibly hard to emerge out of serious agrarian white poverty in the late 40’s and early 50’s. They moved from Alabama to Detroit (as did so many poor and white citizens) to build a better life for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren. They are truly beautiful and remarkable people. And now that my grandmother’s apparently on FB, there’s a decent chance she’s reading this (I love you grandma, you are an amazing woman!).

For some reason, I looked at both of their hands this past Sunday night while they were at my house. How different their lives are than my life or my sons’ lives. How different my grandfather’s life at 2 in 1931 than my Finn’s life as a 2 year old in 2014. Their hands tell the story. How different their hands than all of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

For my grandfather, J.V. Graves, the hands tell the story.

1929. Hands feel air on Planet Earth for the first time.
Hands that farmed and steered a mule.
Hands that buried his father.
Hands that worked in saw mill.
Hands that put bumpers on cars on the assembly line in Detroit for General Motors.
Iron man. Hardly ever missed. In 30 yrs. Iron hands.
Hands that always had time to wrestle or play catch.
Play pool in the basement.
Wash a car.
Build a root beer float.
Dunk an Oreo in milk.
Hands that held
3 children.
7 grand children.
11 great grand children.

Then there’s grandma, Mable Graves. Her hands tell a story too.

Hands that worked to the bone on the farm.

Cooked. Sewed. Cleaned. Stitched. Mended. Held. Washed. Scrubbed. Pushed. Nurtured. Molded.

Tough hands. Tough as any man. But so much life, gentle care and warmth.

Hands that held, nourished, birthed, fed, loved, aided . . .
3 children.
7 grand children.
11 great grand children.

Which leads me to Jesus. I find it so important that, in his resurrection, Thomas wants to see his hands. Jesus has the most brilliant mind in human history . . . he has one of the largest and courageous hearts but Thomas wants to see his hands. Because he knows what happened to those hands a few days prior. Knows how those Nazarene hands were brutalized and abused. And, if that guy can walk away from the grave, with hands that work, then, there’s something else going on. Something divine. Jesus’ hands are what Thomas cares about. Hands that had healed the sick, comforted the wounded, touched the hemorrhaging, welcomed the dead back to life, bandaged the leper.

Which leads me to Bruce Springsteen.

The Bruce (is that a good nickname for him?) has a great song, a gospel song really, in which he invites us to “rise up” with the hands we’ve been given to work for peace, justice, reconciliation, beauty, and hope. You can watch the video below. The song title is “My City of Ruins” and it slays me each time I listen to it.

Now with these hands. With these hands. I pray, Lord, with these hands. C’mon rise up.

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