The Hands

Once in a small village in Germany, during the 15th century, there were two brothers. Both loved to draw and paint and when both were older they wanted to study to become artists. The brothers knew their parents wouldn’t be able to afford to send them to art school so they reached an arrangement. The younger brother agreed to work while the older brother went to school. Then when the older brother graduated an artist, he would work while the younger brother went to school. So it was that Albrecht Dürer went to art school for 5 years while his younger brother worked tirelessly in the mines to pay for his education.

When Albrecht returned home from his studies, everyone in the house greeted him warmly and was excited to see what great art he would produce. But he said, “No, I have made a promise. I will work until my brother has gone through school.” Just then, Albrecht noticed his brother crying.

“What’s wrong?”, he asked, “Are you not excited to begin your studies?”

Albrecht’s younger brother held up his hands. They were swollen and crooked from years of hard manual labor. “Brother,” he said, “I have worked my fingers to the bone so you could study art under the great masters. So much so that my hands are bent and arthritic. They can no longer hold a paint brush or a pencil without shaking. You will have to make great art for the both us.”

Albrecht Dürer would certainly go on to make great art, but the piece he is perhaps the most famous for is a drawing he did of his brother’s hands: swollen and bent, held palm to palm in a posture of worship. He titled it “hands” but to the world, they are known as “the praying hands.”

There’s an old Irish blessing that says, “May you bear the wounds of love…” In the case of Albrecht Dürer’s brother, those wounds were physical… literal marks of self-sacrificial love. What follower of Jesus can hear this story and not think of Jesus’ own scarred hands? True love is an act of self-sacrifice. In ways great and small, we deny our own desires and ambitions to make room for the desires and ambitions of those we love. To be a disciple is to walk in the way of self-sacrificial love after the example of Christ who emptied himself and took on the very nature of a servant. When we do this, we bear upon our selves the wounds of love and discover the blessing and healing that does from being marked by grace.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Transfusion

Once there was an eight year old boy whose younger sister was dying of leukemia. She was desperately in need of a blood transfusion. They tested all of the immediate family but the boy’s blood was by far the best match. The parents were reluctant to have him donate his blood because they were afraid the experience would be too traumatic.  But, at the doctor’s urging, they sat down with him and explained to him that his sister was dying and that, of all of them, his blood was the best match. They needed to know if he’d be willing to give her a pint of his blood. They told him he didn’t have to if he was too scared. They could look for another donor, perhaps a relative. But they also explained she would need this transfusion soon or she would die.

“Can I have the night to think it over?” the child asked.

The parents agreed but, worried they had spooked the boy, began calling relatives. In the morning, though, the boy announced that he wanted to give his sister his blood. So they took the boy to the hospital where he laid on a bed next to his sister. They hooked the boy up to an IV and began to take his blood. The blood spiraled through tubes, painting them red as they went, making a trail from the little boy’s veins to his dying sister’s IV. 

The boy lay in silence as his blood began to drip into his sister. A nurse noticed the boy looked pale and frightened so she went to check on him.

“How are you feeling?” she asked the boy.

The boy lifted his head, looked her in the eyes, and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”

I first read this story in Anne LaMott’s wonderful book on writing, “Bird by Bird.” She describes it as “the best true story I ever heard…” and I must agree it is up there. What a wonderful parable of love and sacrifice! Not understanding the process of transfusion, the boy in the story thought he was going to die in the process of giving his blood to his sister and was willing to do it anyway. 1 John 3:16 tells us, “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” This kind of self sacrificial love is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple walking in the way of Jesus.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…