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  • Robert Kingdom

Living in the Tactile World

Fingers run slowly across soft velvet, stroke a puppy's fur and caress smooth, polished stones. Noses drink in the heady blossom of spring, nestle into fresh-baked bread and bring to life generations of memories when old books are near. Tongues savour jam and cream, dance with tastes of the tropics and relax with a fresh brew. Eyes meditate upon fields of green, shine with merriment at the sun's shifting rays and gaze up at deep blue skies full of stars. Ears pause to hear the frogs' chorus, relish the bells of a far-off cathedral and enjoy the hearty laughter of old friends.

Our senses were given by God to enable us to enjoy Him and His creation. Through them, we were to be drawn closer to Him and closer to those around us. Formed out the dust of the ground, we are always more at home when we are shaking the dust from our boots and washing the dirt from our hands. We function best when we remember that we are but dust and that we have a Maker Who lovingly shaped us in His hands and desires to form us into something fit for His Heavenly Home. Though the earth and all its inhabitants are broken, the fragments of original beauty remain as reminders of what was and promises of a greater beauty yet to come. The flowers of the field, the sprouting seeds, the birds of the air, the rivers flowing in dry and parched lands, the rock beneath our homes and the tender arms of a parent are our teachers and they impart wisdom, warning and care to those who will pay attention.

A couple of centuries ago (or less) there would be little need to write a reflection like this. To say that human existence has changed dramatically goes without saying. We have benefited in so many ways from many of the technologies that have been invented and developed over time and we have much to be thankful for. For a large part of the world, we are able to move faster, interact with more people, live healthier and work easier (if you can call it that). And yet, in technologically advanced societies we are being drawn further and further away from the dust of the earth and all the earth's fullness into a pseudo-world. We are happier watching others get their hands dirty, go on vacations to far-off and wild places and create things of great beauty through the convenience of our laptop or TV and we'd rather share YouTube or TikTok clips of other people's adventures and hilarious moments than experience them for ourselves. New-build houses are larger but backyards are either tiny or non-existent. Despite all the cries to fix the climate, the powers that be seem to do little (for the most part) to encourage and enable the general population to grow their own fruit and vegetables and create bio-diverse gardens. With a click of a button we can have almost anything we want delivered to our doorstep. And the tech-giants would like nothing more than to pull us into a virtual world of their making - and perhaps "remake" us in the process.

I do see the irony of things as I type my reflection on a computer, post it onto the internet and interact with people (including my students) online. I am grateful for the opportunities for meaningful interactions and creative expressions that technology provides me with. It's wonderful to be able to connect with someone on the other side of the globe or to create imaginative designs and products that I couldn't dream of creating if left to my own devices, But like with many things in life - there are blessings and cursings and we can let the pendulum swing too far one way or another.

When I studied art at TAFE college and university, computer paper still had holes in the sides, floppy disks were the go, digital photography was only just emerging onto the scene and we had our very first lesson in how to shop on the internet. My world was fill of inky palms, the smell of turps and oils, hands covered in clay and the magic of the darkroom. It was a rich time for the senses. Probably my favourite tactile experiences were (and continue to be) the feeling that comes with using sticks of willow charcoal and soft chalk pastels. I know the advice is don't rub them with your fingers but that takes much of the fun out of it! I was rather scared of the wood and metal classes but I did love the smell and feel of the wood and felt a great sense of accomplishment when I managed to hammer a flat sheet of copper into a bowl. In Textiles classes we dyed and painted our own fabrics and made bags, ties and vests (using sewing machines that were a far cry from those available today. I delved a lot more into the wonderful world of watercolour after my uni-days and I was explaining to my students just recently how relaxing it can be as you rhythmically glide the loaded brush along the smooth paper.

Of course, we are multifaceted as creative beings and I can't go on without mentioning some of the other creative "loves" in my life. I've long enjoyed cooking and baking and if anything can make all the senses come alive it is that - whether crumbling butter and flour through your fingers to make scones, pulling a sizzling lamb roast out of the oven or preparing spicy, fragrant treats for Christmas celebrations. I learnt violin for a number of years and recently picked it up again as I found it really helped me flourish in my mental health. The smell of the polish and rosin, the feel of the vibrations through the wood and the mellow sound from the strings bring joy to my body and soul. And then there is the garden. I don't profess to be a great gardener but I do love seeing things of beauty grow and transform and multiply. My fingers love to stroke velvety petals, and my back loves the heat of the sun as bees work their way across spikes of lavender. I crush mint leaves and take deep breaths. Often with my exhaling breaths I look upwards and worship their Creator and mine and give thanks.

There are times when creativity and intimacy join hands and these are the best of times. Friends gather for dinner enjoying culinary delights and heartfelt conversation before sharing sublime moments in a concert hall or theatre. Grandparents and grandchildren bake cookies together, talk about life and wait expectantly for the oven to reveal its treats. Husband and wife plan and dig a garden or restore and decorate a home and enjoy making spaces that express the beauty of their union. The marriage bed brings forth the most beautiful of all human creations - a little child that expresses something of each parent but ultimately is made in the image of God and has the potential to glorify and enjoy Him forever. People experience love, acceptance and friendship as they come together and find ways to bless and enhance their local community and its facilities. An orchestra enjoys the blessing of playing as one - deferring to one another as they work to make something exquisite that will not only bless their group but all who gather to listen. Birthdays and Christmas celebrations fill spaces with dazzling colours, warm fragrances and time-honoured foods and decorations and the gathered embrace and rejoice.

We forget who we are and who we are intended to be as we are drawn out of this tactile world into pseudo-worlds. We miss out on the lessons that the birds, flowers and starry-skies could otherwise teach us. Our bodies and souls shrivel as they disconnect from the very things that would nourish and enrich them. We are less inclined to notice the hidden treasures that sparkle beyond the brokenness of this world and we lose hold of the hope in future restoration when our feet and fingernails are squeaky-clean. But if we throw clay on the potter's wheel, weave yarn on a loom, pause and watch the birds make a nest or construct a house of gingerbread we place ourselves in a better position to remembering our Creator and His marvellous designs and plans - both for His creation and His children. And we may just get a glimpse of the even greater, more solid and truly lasting goodness that He has in store for all who will embrace Him and the re-creative work that His Son - the Carpenter from Nazareth - accomplished on the cross. The future of those cleansed and made new by His atoning sacrifice will not only be in the New Heavens but also in the New Earth and New Jerusalem where we shall continue to eat, drink, embrace and create - and the dust on our feet shall be purest gold (see Revelation 21 & 22).

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. Psalm 34:8 (KJV)

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