Monday, April 21, 2014
A Beloved's Hands
Back in the fifteenth century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg, lived a family with eighteen children. Eighteen! In order merely to keep food on the table for this mob, the father and head of the household, a goldsmith by profession, worked almost eighteen hours a day at his trade and any other paying chore he could find in the neighborhood. Despite their seemingly hopeless condition, two of Albrecht Durer the Elder's children had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew full well that their father would never be financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the Academy.
After many long discussions at night in their crowded bed, the two boys finally worked out a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down into the nearby mines and, with his earnings, support his brother while he attended the academy. Then, when that brother who won the toss completed his studies, in four years, he would support the other brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork or, if necessary, also by laboring in the mines. They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to Nuremberg.
Albert went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate sensation. Albrecht's etchings, his woodcuts, and his oils were far better than those of most of his professors, and by the time he graduated, he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his commissioned works.
When the young artist returned to his village, the Durer family held a festive dinner on their lawn to celebrate Albrecht's triumphant homecoming. After a long and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his honored position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfill his ambition. His closing words were, "And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will support you."
All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, tears streaming down his pale face, shaking his lowered head from side to side while he sobbed and repeated over and over, "No ... no ... no ... no."
Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He glanced down the long table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands close to his right cheek, he said softly, "No, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look... look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. No, brother ... for me it is too late."
More than 450 years have passed. By now, Albrecht Durer's hundreds of masterful portraits, pen and silver-point sketches, watercolors, charcoals, woodcuts, and copper engravings hang in every great museum in the world, but the odds are great that you, like most people, are familiar with only one of Albrecht Durer's works. More than merely being familiar with it, you very well may have a reproduction hanging in your home or office.
One day, long ago, to pay homage to Albert for all that he had sacrificed, Albrecht Durer painstakingly drew his brother's abused hands with palms together and thin fingers stretched skyward. He called his powerful drawing simply "Hands," but the entire world almost immediately opened their hearts to his great masterpiece and renamed his tribute of love "The Praying Hands".
I’m reminded of a piece I wrote about my Grandmother’s hands, entitled “Bedstemor’s Hands”:
And she said to me,
“They have been dirty, scraped and raw, swollen and bent. They were uneasy and clumsy when I tried to hold your mom when she was first born. They have been decorated with my wedding band and they showed the world that I was married and loved someone special. They wrote my letters to him while he was away, and trembled and shook when I buried my parents. They have held my children and grandchildren, and yes, I have been blessed to hold even my great grandchildren. They have consoled neighbors who were hurting and made more meals than I can imagine; not just for family but for others who needed help. These hands have served food in soup lines when times were hard and they have dug into the dirt to grow my own garden, so we would have for ourselves and for others. They have been shaken as fists of anger when I didn't understand, and even raised in defense for those I loved. My little brother was always picked on and I always came to the rescue, for these hands would never allow any of mine to be hurt. They have covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and bathed everyone from my brothers, to even your little bottom. They have been sticky and wet, bent and broken, dried, cracked and raw. And to this day, even though they are twisted and bent, when not much of anything else of me works real well, these hands hold me up, lay me down, and again continue to fold in prayer.
These hands are the mark of where I've been and the ruggedness of life. But more importantly it will be these hands that God will reach out and take when he leads me home. And with my hands, He will lift me to His side and there I will use these hands to touch the face of Christ. And Dear, I will touch the face of Christ for it is He who gave me these hands. It was he who gave me the strength to go and do. It was He who even now though my time is short still gives me hope and reason to fold them in prayer.”
I will never look at my hands the same again. And I remember God reached out and took my Bedstemor’s hands and led her home. When my hands are hurt or sore, I think of her. When I stroke the face of a new born baby, when I hold my grandchild for the first time, I think of her. When I wipe the tears of someone who is hurting or just write a few lines to show someone my God Loves them and Christ lives in them, I think of Bedstemor. I know she has been stroked and caressed and held by the hands of God. To know, on that afternoon so many years ago, she reached up and cradled my face in those old twisted hands and she said she was proud of me and she loved me, but most of all she said, “Don’t forget to use your hands for God.”
I too, want to touch the face of God and feel His hands upon my face.
When you are finished reading this, say a prayer and give thanks not just for your hands but for the hands that taught you to pray or the hands that showed you how to reach out to God. Not everyone had my Bedstemor but everyone has someone. Those hands have prayed for you and praised God for you. Look at your hands, raise them up and just take a moment and say thank you. Know that this was sent to you to remind you those hands are special to someone. They are God’s blessing. They fulfill an answer to prayer and work in your life. They will be raised in Joy, and will be used to wipe away tears, but most importantly, they will be used to Glorify Him. Let's continue praying for one another, joining hands in Spirit and in purpose. Yes, with these hands I have touched the face of God, and YOU can too.
“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer,
without anger or disputing.” ~ 1 Timothy 2:8
God Bless You, God Loves You, Love in Christ Always My Friends...
(adapted and edited from the annals of Gearld Kapp)