THE beauties of touch are, I suppose, largely hidden from many
sighted people. For those who go blind in adult life, the loss of
beauty must be one of the most perplexing problems. Those in the
blind state who do not wish to remain as sighted people who cannot
see, but to become authentic blind people, will find that
discovering the beauty of touch is one of their most important
In my own experience - perhaps I am not alone in this - one
passes through three stages in the learning of tactile beauty.
First, there is the stage when, with our hands, we learn again to
do. There is the second stage when, with our hands, we learn to
know. Finally, there is that stage when, with our hands, we learn
to appreciate beauty.
The first stage, the doing stage, is in itself sufficiently
perplexing. It takes time to realise that, as a blind person trying
to unlock a door, you have to remember what it was like coming home
late at night drunk. You need one hand to locate the keyhole, and
the other hand to shove the key in. This is an example of blind
To move on to blind knowing is so much more complex. Of course,
sighted people do use their hands for knowing. One touches
something to discover whether or not it is hot, and one says
"Ouch." These experiences are relatively isolated for the sighted.
In the case of the blind, we see with our fingers more regularly.
For us, tactile knowing is our standard form of knowledge.
When we arrive at the third stage, the stage of discovering
tactile beauty, we reach realms that are yet more subtle. It is
foolish for blind people to sit around bemoaning the loss of the
moon and the mountain. For us, beauty is more intimate, more
concrete, more immediate, more particular. Gradually, the blind
rediscover the beauty of ordinary things. In the world of blind
beauty, we rediscover the loveliness of cups and saucers, of milk
bottles and teaspoons, of rocks and bricks, of the bark of trees
and the feel of human hair.
Now I would like to move on to the tactile heart, because,
although we know with our brains, we feel with our hearts. Let us
think how the tactile heart is used in religious imagination to
express our response to God.
In tactile doing, knowing, and appreciating beauty, we find
metaphors of our human condition before God. Do you remember how
the Lord God made us human beings in the first place? Did God not
kneel down in the dust of the earth, and use fingers to mould us?
Did God not hold us, warm against God's own body, and breathe into
us the breath of life? So we became living men and women. We are
close to the heart of this tactile God.
Do we not remember those stories about Jesus Christ? His
contemporaries were amazed because he touched people. He touched
the untouchable, the unlovely, the poor, and the sick. He laid his
hands upon little children. Moreover, he made himself available to
be touched, for to touch is to be touched.
So it was that Thomas was invited to touch his hands and his
side, and when the first Christians looked back and described the
experience they had had of God in Christ, they spoke of that which
they had touched with their hands (1 John 1.1).
This is an edited extract from The Tactile Heart:
Blindness and faith by John M. Hull (SCM Press, £25 (CT Bookshop
£22.50); 978-0-334-04933-3) (Back Page