Have you ever injured an arm or a hand that left you without the use of your limb for some time? I broke both my right and my left arms during my childhood, in the second and fourth grade respectively. I remember vividly how, especially with my incapacitated right hand, my daily life was drastically impacted. No longer could I do the simple tasks I had taken for granted- bathing, writing, or even opening a jar to make my usual PB & J. It turns out that when we’re just living life we use our hands. A lot.
Our psalm for today has a lot to say about hands- though it may not appear so at first glance. In most of our English translations, the word “hand(s)” only shows up in verses seven and eight, and only refers to God’s hand(s). The first reference describes God’s outstretched right hand as a guide and protector. Here, I picture a friend who, just last week while driving, shot out her right hand as traffic came to an abrupt stop- acting as a human seatbelt for me in passenger seat as a backup to the one fastened snug around me. (Have you ever experienced that?) Later, in the last line the psalmist pleads: “do not forsake the work of your hands” (NRSV), basically asking God to not leave alone what God has created- creation, humankind, and the psalmist herself.
While these two mentions of “hands” are significant and demonstrate that God’s hands are strong, caring, creative and more, they are not the only allusions to the upper extremities in the psalm. It turns out that when we read “thanks” (vs. 1 and 2) and even a time or two of “praise” (vs. 4), we are interpreting the Hebrew word ידה (yadah) which literally translates: to use the hand, to throw, and to worship (with extended hands), to praise and to thank. This makes sense when we see that the Hebrew dictionary tells us that the Hebrew word for hand is יד which is pronounced yad. Do you notice the relation? Yad- hand. Yadah- to use the hand, to worship, to praise, to thank.
Perhaps the ancient Hebrew people were getting at something deeply theological in the simplicity of their speech. What if the use of our hands is directly connected to our worship, our praise, our giving thanks to God? Often times I am caught up in my own head, believing that my worship of God is limited to how I think about God, what I read about God, or even the songs I sing on Sunday mornings. But as I look more deeply at this psalm, I realize that when the psalmist says “I give you thanks, O Lord,” she is not only worshipping with the words of her mouth but, in doing so, automatically alludes to how she praises God with her hands.
And now, as I read the psalm, I pause: how do I praise God with my hands? Looking around me, I glimpse wonderful ways that others do so. My mom is an incredible gardener and with her hands in the dirt, she worships God by helping to bring to life God’s beautiful creation. I have a friend Matt who, as a masseur, traveled to another country and volunteered his time giving massages to exhausted missionaries and hard-working teachers. My friend Chelsea uses her hands to knit beautiful pieces and cook delicious meals, sharing them with others to joyfully praise God. Miss Betty, the sweet 80-some year old grandma at my church, told me once that she hand-cranks the bingo cage and calls the numbers aloud at the local nursing home to share God’s love and give thanks to God.
This is yadah- giving thanks, praising and worshipping God with our hands. We are created to worship God, not only with our hearts and minds, but with our whole beings- including our hands. So, how will your hands, how will my hands, join in the worship of our great God today?