In a world wrought with abuse—inside and outside of the church—can physical touch be redeemed? Is there room for healthy, platonic touch? What does the life of Jesus communicate about touch and human intimacy?
Lore Ferguson Wilbert offers gentle and articulate reflections on touch in her debut book, Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry. What the reader will not find in Wilbert’s words is a prescriptive methodology or a step-by-step guide for every situation. Instead, the author weaves personal experience with cultural critique and biblical reflection, crafting questions that invite contemplation over condemnation.
The book as a whole rests easily in this rhythm of exploring embodied experiences—miscarriage and grief, singleness and longing, marriage and mutuality, children and trauma, church and community—offering thoughtful critique to the status quo when applicable and then gently presenting prompts for envisioning a better way forward.
In her discussion of touch and singleness, for example, Wilbert shares how her longing for marriage in her 20s and early 30s was often a desire for embodied presence—the warm companionship of sharing a table or a bed or a lingering hug in sickness, sadness, or celebration. Unmarried people, she notes, often feel their unmarriedness most acutely in the lack of routine, safe touch. She then poses thoughtful questions—not to singles, but to the church charged with caring for them: a call to examine the ways we “leave them out of our plans, (and) leave them out of our arms.” She then gently challenges the church to embrace single people, literally and figuratively, through the hospitality of an open home, the welcome of a saved seat in the church pew, or the offer of a warm hug or shoulder on which to lean.
Later, in exploring touch and marriage, Wilbert discusses the ways touch has memory. She argues that the way our bodies remember, through touch, can create spaces of genuine safety and intimacy—or can pave the way for spaces of danger as bodies remember touch that was stolen, inappropriate, abusive, or unwanted. The questions she raises in response to this reality prompt the necessity of seeking to touch in a way that “view(s) one another as subjects in the King’s kingdom instead of objects of pleasure or worship … not seek(ing) merely a body, but a person.”
What I found especially refreshing in Wilbert’s framing of the conversation on touch was her continual return to the heart and example of Christ. Alongside her own anecdotal storytelling, she consistently pulls on scriptural accounts and theological truths highlighting the way Christ’s incarnation was fully realized in the ways he moved toward people, touched the vulnerable with the purest of intentions and without regard for appearances, and healed deep wounds with hands of hope and without fear of closeness. It is this engagement with the character and practice of Jesus that makes this book powerful and lays a strong foundation for touch that heals instead of harms. (B&H Books)