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The softness of God
I would do anything to be here again
The instant that she laid her hands upon my face, I held my breath.
The softness of God.
I had no idea where the thought came from or where it would lead, but tears of truth pricked at the corners of my closed eyes as she began to massage my temples. She paused only to coat her cool, smooth fingers with another cream, another oil, another scrub, and then caressed the curves of my chin, my forehead, my cheeks. Hot towels, warm water, mud masks, and lotion after lotion were slowly laid on my skin and then gently removed, each step washing away another layer of fear or weariness or exhaustion.
Like a rebirth. Like a sacrament.
Before I met the esthetician in that dark room, I had enjoyed exactly one facial in my life, a spontaneous splurge the week before my wedding when I decided I was so-stressed-out that I deserved an afternoon indulgence. What did I know, what did I know then of exhaustion or stress or best-laid plans gone astray, but when I found myself years later, hairless and cancer-filled, leaning my tired neck back into a stranger’s hands, the whole act felt holy like never before.
Her fingers were slender and strong, impossibly soft. I wanted to cry because of all the hands that have touched my face—husband or children or parents or friends—nothing felt like hers. I kept hushing myself that calling any human hands divine would be blasphemous, and yet as she went through her hour of silent, sacred work, all I could think was if God’s hands feel this soft, I would do anything to be here again.
Here is a truth I have never heard preached: the softness of God.
Not just God’s tenderness or kindness or mercy, but the particular goodness of softness as a quality of the divine.
Like the velvety skin of your grandmother’s cheek, wrinkled and warm against your hand.
Like the comfort of your favorite blanket or fluffy pillows on a well-worn couch.
Like the balmy breeze and smooth sand on a gentle beach.
Like the downy hair on a newborn’s cheek, feathery fine.
Like the flow of a rushing creek, silken on your toes.
Once I wrote about how God must have the best sense of humor. Since then I haven’t stopped keeping a secret, spooling list of delights that God might possess: wonderful qualities here-below that the Holy One Above could embody in abundance. What if God were the most beautiful being? The most empathetic listener? The most enthusiastic teacher? The gentlest baby-whisper, the kindest nurse, the smartest friend, the greatest cook, the wisest author.
How could the Creator who made feathers and fur, muted rainbows and billowing clouds, spiderweb silk and droplets of dew, human compassion and divine forgiveness—how could a God like that not be the ultimate epitome of softness?
And what might change if we saw God as soft, not hard?
The softness of God is tucked in quiet corners throughout Scripture, if you go looking.
God first seeks softness in the garden, walking in the evening “at the breezy time of the day” (Genesis 3:8). God arrives in a “sound of sheer silence,” not the violent wind, rattling earthquake, or blazing fire of power (1 Kings 19:12). God is the nursing mother in whose lap our souls find calm (Ps 131:2). God is the newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, cradled in his mother’s arms—twice soft, twice vulnerable, twice held (Luke 2:7).
Stories from Jesus’ ministry speak softly, too. He blesses children and lays his hands on them, softness upon softness (Matthew 19:13-15). He traces the ground with his finger when faced with the harsh shouts of an angry mob, a brush with the softness of creation that lets him rise up to strength, a microcosm of resurrection (John 8:6-8). He heals a blind man’s eyes with mud made from the softest parts of nature—dust and water—and lets the gentle touch of his hands meet the most vulnerable part of the human face (John 9:6-7).
God’s softness is found in surprising places—like snapping open an aloe leaf, spiky and spindly, to find the healing balm inside.
In Scripture, softness and strength go hand in hand: to welcome, to heal, to comfort, to guide.
Among the handful of graces in my life is that I have known God’s softness.
I did not grow up in a hellfire-and-brimstone church, hearing rants of sinners in the hands of an angry God. Ours was a felt banner and folk song era, much maligned in content but I must testify to you that God-is-love did not fail me, not one bit. Quite the opposite: I grew up with questions and struggles and doubt, but I always found God to be a soft place to land. A mossy grass on which to flop and fling my questions to the heavens above. A tender lap into which to crawl when life’s thorns wounded my tender skin.
The softness of God is not spineless, to be sure. Only strength can form the core of love, equal parts just and merciful. Plenty of times, the soft heart of truth was exactly what called me to change, to convert, to challenge the unjust powers that be. Ironic (or entirely fitting) that the hardest parts of my life—new motherhood, raw grief, mental health, breast cancer—are exactly where I have felt God’s softness the strongest.
Melting my jagged edges, soothing me to believe that the harshness of now was never the end.
This is why part of my prayers have always been for those who have not known the softness of God. When the silken fingers of love press upon your skin, you believe anything is possible. Redemption and resurrection, the renewal of all things. Including you.
The second that he laid his hands upon my head, I held my breath.
The softness of God.
The words rushed into my thoughts again, the same salty tears of recognition spilling down my cheeks. His palms radiated warmth, even through the layers of my headscarf, and his fingers stayed, praying, unmoving, for longer than anyone had blessed me before.
Here was a true sacrament, explained to my children wriggling in the pew next to me, spoken with soft strength by a pastor who knew how to care for lambs, big and small. He shared prayer and Scripture, anointed my hands and head with oil, and spoke of healing that can come through miracles in the ordinary.
To be seen and held and blessed like this, as if you are the only one in the world, as if every awful thing you’ve ever done could be forgiven, as if every good gift could be yours—these are the fingers of compassion and the palms of peace.
After the anointing, he smiled and I smiled and our friends smiled and my children smiled. When you have brushed against the holy, there is little left to say.
Except these words, which echoed in my head with each footstep as we laughed and clamored down the long aisle out of church:
If God's hands feel this soft, I would do anything to be here again.
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