Hands in particular are as revealing to her as faces.

-Rosamond Bernier writing on Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois “Variation for Four Hands and One Foot” 1994

My fascination with hands began on a Tuesday.
We were sitting legs-crossed in sweater vests and khaki skirts while overdramatized clips of hands flashed across the screen. Each clip was labeled with a sin such as “stealing” or “pornography” (the awkwardness was palpable). After several of these sinful hands were displayed, Jesus’ pierced (caucasian) hands lit up the screen. We discussed atonement and then went about our day. But (for once in my life) I quickly forgot the theology and began noticing my own hands and the hands of people around me.

At 16, I visited St. Peter’s basilica and cried at the Pieta when I saw Mary’s hands holding Jesus’ dead body. It was the first time a piece of visual art that grabbed my heart so as to make me still and to make me cry.

At 19, I visited the Tate Modern and was struck by Louise Bourgeois’ “Variation for Four Hands and One Foot”.  I saw it in the lonely hour, when I would have given almost anything to be touched by someone and I clasped my homeless friend (Christy)’s hand more for my sake than her own.

At 20, I began trying to write poems. Every poem about love was driven by hand metaphor: joy at the pressure points, thick thumbs and thin index fingers, double-jointed eccentricities and the relief of holding someone.

Then, at 21, I wrote about the loss of hands that didn’t quite fit; The grace of a friend’s hands holding my face.

These memories stick out to me, but as I begin to reflect, more memories come. There was that song where the bridge goes “all I can picture is held hands coming apart” that I played every time I got the keyboard to myself (sorry everyone). There is the fact that I could describe to you the size and length of fingers of the ones who are or who have been dearest to me. There is the beauty and humility that came with learning to pray with my hands.

There are many reasons I love hands so much. Hands hold and touch, they show and write, they cling and they let go.

But as for my nails, they are always chipped. Even when I went through a short and awful phase of black acrylics, I would begin chipping away at them in a week. I go in phases with rings, and although each ring is significant, I lose them like it’s my job. I have a huge scar on my right hand from a large wart that I had burned off several times when I was 15. I think my hands are beautiful, but they are not well-kept. Hands without scars or marks feel dishonest to me because I think we are meant to live life with our hands.

We have done both wonderful and horrendous things with our hands, and it matters because the physicality of our life is essential to God. It is essential that Christ became a man, not a set of rules, so that he could hold children and touch lepers. Our God had hands. And he has also held the faces of the ones he loves and knows everything about the hands of those who betrayed him. And I believe that to be the hands and feet of Christ is both literal and metaphorical. We must feed, heal, hold and free as he did.

But also, we must know that when we are at the place where words fail to capture either our grief or our joy, a hand extended is the very hand of Christ—providing love and peace that surpasses all knowledge (Eph 3:19, Phil. 4:7)



  1. We need our hands to create beauty and heal others. That is why they are such a special gift. Even without words we can create wonders with them. I’ve enjoyed reading this reflection. Thank you for sharing it.

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