I’m eleven, standing in front of a broad painting of a broad woman lying down with no clothes on. My father wants me to look closer — forget what the painting is about, don’t be embarrassed, but see the brushstrokes, look how many colors in the flesh! — but I don’t want to look closer. He puts his hand on my shoulder, nudges me towards the canvas.

I’m not used to my father putting his hand on my shoulder. My shoulder is bony and his hand is big. It swallows me up and makes me small. It feels strange.

Jake the barber touches me efficiently, an admonitory nudge to the head when I slip out of position, a tattooed hand braced against my face while he details a sideburn. I take the touch for what it is. But if it’s a bad week, I confessed once to a friend, I might close my eyes and pretend that the barber is not a barber, and that he is touching my face for other reasons. What do I want?

K.’s roommate is out of town. It hasn’t been long since we met on the JiM weekend, and our newfound friendship(?) is as heady as wine. We are watching Shoot ‘Em Up on his couch. Halfway through, he asks if he can put his head on my shoulder; soon he is cradled in my arms and is stroking my face. I open my eyes and frown. I don’t understand why there is no electricity, why he is nothing but a weight in my lap.

This is stupid. Not in a we-shouldn’t-be-doing-this kind of way, but just in a this-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way. What did I want? This wasn’t it. His hand feels like a piece of meat.

In the kitchen, several beers deep, one of the five of us remembers a video the rest of us have got to see, this moment. He pulls it up and we hunch over his phone. S. crooks an elbow and rests it on my shoulder, bending in closer to see past me. Why is he touching me? Is he doing it to show me that he’s not scared to touch me, even though I’m gay? Is he doing it to learn to overcome his own interior reluctance?

No, he is touching me without thinking because it is natural to touch your friends. I could get used to that.

Jesus is on his way to the centurion’s house. He passes through the crowd and somebody touches him.

“Of course somebody touched you,” Peter says. “It’s a mob scene out here. Makes more sense to ask, Who didn’t touch you?”

But Jesus knows it was a different kind of touch than that. You can touch a sick man and put your whole self into that hand, fill it with intention and compassion, focus all your qi in it. When Jesus heals with a touch, maybe this is how he does it, by loving through touch: Take heart, he says with his hands, and only secondarily with his voice.

There are different ways to be touched, too. When the woman in the crowd touches Jesus, all her thirst is in her hand. She is like dry, cracked ground, ready to accept his rain; she is a flagpole, and he is a lightning storm.

This is why Jesus feels her touch. He feels the sudden drop in His interior voltage.

Your faith has healed you, he says. But it is also his touch, and hers, the combination of the two: touch as a mode of love, love that heals. When we touch each other, is it like when he touches us? Is it different in kind, or only in degree? Is he able to heal because he is God, or because he is perfect Man?

What power is in the hands of a man who loves?


15 Comments on “Voltage”

  1. Anna says:

    Granted, I’m emotional today… But I think that is the most meaningful tattoo I have ever seen.

  2. Abba says:

    Must’ve been Renoir. I don’t remember. ~Abba

    1. She did have a lot of colors in her butt, though.

  3. Jason says:

    The disciple whom Jesus loved laid his head on Jesus’ breast.
    I’ve wondered if this was a way of ministering to that disciple, of healing him.

  4. Victor says:

    New tattoo, eh? Is the handprint from a specific person, and if so, who?

    1. It’s a cool tattoo, but it isn’t mine. The picture links to the story behind it, which is worth reading.

  5. JBT says:

    “I did not recoil from the erotic conclusion with chaste horror, exclaiming, ‘Not that!’ My feelings could rather have been expressed in the words, ‘Quite. I see. But haven’t we wandered from the real point?’ Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.” – CSL

    A very serious and moving observation. But still, “Quite. I see.” always cracks me up. I can’t help picturing him saying it in the middle of sex. Possibly while sipping tea.

  6. Marites A says:

    Joseph, this is incredibly beautiful. I was moved to tears and have a feeling I will be moved to tears all day whenever I recall your deep and poignant words. “Touch” has taken on a powerful meaning when connected to the healing touch of the Master’s hand.
    Wow. Wow. Wow. I am filled to the brim just thinking about it.

  7. Gabriel says:

    Wow. This is an excellent piece. Reminds me a little of Lewis’ “Transposition,” as applied to all the different meanings that what is “objectively” (i.e., considering only one aspect of reality) the same act of touching can convey.

  8. JD says:

    Thank you Steve, for this touching piece. I was introduced to your blog a week ago, for which I am thankful; your witness is a comfort to me, as are the comments on your posts from readers with SSA. It’s good to see, not just to know, but to see that I am truly not alone in carrying this heavy cross. May God bless you!

  9. Alexis says:

    Another beautiful post, Joey. Much to ponder. Thank you.

  10. Victor says:

    My bad – I totally thought this was you.
    Thank you once more for sharing so much of yourself. I can relate very well – I still remember the time when a close friend once put his arm at my shoulder (just because he had to put it somewhere, no deeper meaning was intended). To him it wasn’t even something he consciously did – to me it was incredibly important.
    I guess that is why I always hug friends I meet again. A hug is so much more than a handshake…

  11. Jerome says:

    Hey Steve,

    Thank you for this gorgeous, heartbreaking post. I definitely can relate with so much of what you write. I’ve been growing up as something of a young, gay man tentatively preparing for celibacy -and it’s very hard to draw the line in terms of physical boundaries with my male (Christian) friends. Generally, I’m upfront enough to ask to avoid physical contact, and most of them are cool with it. Not so much that I feel somehow always tempted by being near them -it’s rather that I don’t want them suspecting our friendships. It seemed safer. But sometimes it does feel excruciating -I try to compensate for this by maniacally hugging all my female friends, but it’s certainly a different experience. I do, very frankly, wish I could have deep hugs, with, well, guys -but not necessarily in a sexual way. But I’m not sure how to ask for it without risking a breach in many of the relationships with my very supportive, if misunderstanding friends.

    THank you for this post. We owe you one.

  12. John says:

    I am studying for my electricity and magnetism final right now and i have been battling in my mind whether voltage is the proper term to convey your point. Voltage implies a potential difference- where a higher source of electric potential moves to lower source of potential. You can have all the current you want, but if there is not a voltage drop, there will be no power. Voltage implies a unidirectional transfer of charge.

  13. Texan says:


    Have been reading for a few months and thought I’d finally post. Your blog is a ministry in and of itself. Have you looked into the ‘Courage’ program or have any thoughts on it? I’ve hit up their site and there’s a local chapter of it in my diocese in Houston. I really want to live chaste but find it very difficult to resist temptation. The older I get, 38 now, the more I’m coming to the conclusion that my original idea of finding a guy to share love and a picket fence aren’t really what I want after all and I think you hit the nail on the head with your statement – ‘this doesn’t make sense kind of way’. That’s where I’ve been converging to also. May the Lord bless you, sir. Oh, and a reflective Advent as well.

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