BY JOHN WORCESTER
MASSACHUSETTS NEW-CHURCH UNION
THROUGH the hands is expressed the love of doing, of forming for use, and of communicating. The working strength of the body is exerted by them; also its skill or wisdom of work.
"To speak well," Shakspeare says, "is a kind of good deed"; and it is a kind that is performed by the tongue. But the words of the tongue have for their purpose to affect the works of others' hands, by filling them with wiser thought and better feeling, if not by changing their form or direction; and even words are expressed more perfectly and permanently by the hand, in writing, than by the tongue; and, moreover, they who speak express their personal life and love more fully by what they do with their hands than by their words.(1) [p. 251]
The use of the arms is almost exclusively to make the hands effective. The upper arm, to the elbow, including the muscles of the shoulder, raises, extends, and gives broad, sweeping motions to the lower arm and hand. The lower arm adds to the variety of motions of the hand that of rotation, and also contains in itself the strong muscles which extend and those which contract the fingers. The compact upper part of the hand, with its bones strongly and almost immovably bound together, gives firmness and solidity to all the deeds which require the action of the whole hand. The skin of it, especially upon the palm, though firm and thick, is exquisitely sensitive and very porous, and thus is peculiarly fitted as an instrument to receive and to communicate such influences as can be communicated through the skin. Here, also, snugly packed between the bones, lie the little muscles which give quick, light motions to the fingers; and, of course, through this part of the hand pass the tendons which convey the power of the fore-arm to the fingers; and all are bound [p. 252] down and protected by smooth, strong, sinewy sheaths, which no one can see without admiration. Each hand terminates in four fingers and a thumb. The fingers, from their flexibility and quickness, perform most of the light, skilful motions of the hand, guiding its smaller tools, or striking the keys of its instruments by their separate motions, or combining to grasp the implements which require their united strength; and the thumb takes upon itself the task of holding within the grasp of the fingers and subject to their operations the objects upon which, or the instruments by which, they are to do their work. For this purpose the thumb has the power of opposing itself to each finger separately, and pressing a small object, as a pencil, a needle, a bit of paper or cloth, upon its point; and also of opposing them all, and retaining a larger object, as a cane or an axe or the hand of a friend, within their grasp. And both fingers and thumbs share, perhaps in even larger measure, the sensitive openness of skin of the palm. The papillae arrange [p. 253] themselves at the tips in beautiful spiral sweeps, which were Swedenborg's delight, expressing to him the perfection of their structure, and the infinite variety of their possible adaptations.
This beautiful apparatus for expressing the love of doing and communicating is itself very much modified by its work. By some kinds of work in which great strength is exerted, the cuticle is thickened and made hard and firm to protect the tender parts; at the same time, the muscles and even the bones are enlarged, and the shape of the hand is broadened and thickened. By other kinds of work the cuticle is made thin and flexible, and the hands themselves slight and delicate. By long continued exercise of the fingers in separate motions, as in playing upon an instrument, the little muscles of the fingers are separated from one another, and acquire great freedom of motion; and even, in some cases, new little accessory muscles may be formed; while in work which exercises all the fingers jointly, there is a tendency to combine the muscles for mutual support; at [p. 254] least, they often do grow together to such a degree that the power of separate motion is very much diminished.
Every employment has its own peculiar motions to which the hands and fingers must be trained; and by training they acquire skill and deftness. No doubt it is true, also, that the kind of love which is put into the work, whether gentle and considerate or selfish, affects the motions and even the organic forms of the hands. We are not skilled to judge of interior things from the hands; but Swedenborg says, that an angel can read from the hand the whole of a man's life, what it has been exteriorly and interiorly; which means that all the affection and thought from which a man has lived are actually worked into the forms of his hands.
Possibly it is true, also, that the delicate forms of the fibres and
papillae of the hands are affected by the outflow and the reception of
the effluvia which constitute the spheres of human lives. Certain it is
that the love of doing throws all its [p. 255]
We read that when John in the vision saw the Lord in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, he fell at His feet as dead; by which is signified a sense of his own lifelessness in the presence of the Lord; and then the Lord laid His right hand upon him, and communicated His life to him. Of this, Swedenborg says, --
"That the Lord laid His right hand upon him is because communication is effected by the touch of the hands; the reason is that the life of the mind and thence of the body puts itself forth into the arms and through them into the hands; therefore it is that the Lord touched with His hand those whom He raised from the dead and those whom He healed; and that He also touched His disciples when they saw Him transfigured, and fell upon their faces." (A. R. 55.)
In all these cases, the Lord's Divine love of doing good and giving life was actually put forth [p. 256] through His hand, and was received according to the state of the recipient. For a like reason, when we desire to express sympathy, and to help one who needs it, we naturally stretch out our hand.
On this subject, Swedenborg further writes, --
"That to touch is communication, translation, and reception, is because the interiors of man put themselves forth through the exteriors, especially through the touch, and thus communicate themselves to another, and transfer themselves into another, and as far as the will of the other agrees and makes one, so far they are received. This is especially manifest in the other life; for there all act from the heart, that is, from the will or love, and it is not allowed to express by actions separate from these, nor to speak with simulating lips, that is, separately from the thought of the heart. It is manifest there how the interiors communicate themselves to another, and transfer themselves into another by the touch; and how the other receives them according to his love. The will or the love of every one constitutes the whole man there, and the sphere of his life flows thence from him like a breathing or vapor, and surrounds him, and makes [p. 257] as it were himself around him, hardly otherwise than like the exhalation about plants in the world, which also is perceived at a distance by odors; also about beasts, which is exquisitely perceived by a sagacious dog. Such exhalation also pours out from every person, as also is known by much experience. But when man lays aside his body, and becomes a spirit or angel, then that effluvium or exhalation is not material as in the world, but it is the spiritual flowing from his love; this then forms a sphere about him, which causes his quality to be perceived at a distance by others. . . . This sphere is communicated to another, and transferred into him, and is received by the other according to his love." (A. C.10,130.)
This sphere of life comes forth with special strength from the hands, because it comes from the love which is the life, and which concentrates its active power in them. Upon this is founded our custom of shaking or pressing hands when we meet as friends, by which a mutual interchange of spheres of life is not only represented but effected. Sensitive persons perceive in the touch of the hands a sense of pleasure when the states of life [p. 258] are in harmony, and a peculiar feeling of contraction of the fibres and closing of the pores, when they disagree, even though they do not know the state of the person they meet, nor the cause of their feeling.
As all the power of one's life throws itself into the hands and expresses itself through them, so the life of the heavens and their power to do good operates through the angels who are in the province of the hands.
"In the Greatest Man," Swedenborg says, "they who correspond to the hands and arms, and also to the shoulders, are they who are in power by the truth of faith from good [which is the same as saying that they are in the Lord's wisdom of life from good love]; for they who are in the truth of faith from good, are in the Lord's power; for they attribute all power to Him, and none to themselves, and the more they attribute all power to Him and none to themselves, the greater power they are in; hence the angels are called Powers and Abilities. That the hands, arms, and shoulders in the Greatest Man correspond to power is because the forces and powers of the whole body and of all its viscera [p. 259] concentrate themselves there; for the body exerts its forces and powers by the arms and the hands."
"A naked arm bent forward, has been seen by me, which had in it so great force and at the same time such terror that not only was I terrified, but it seemed as if I might be crushed to atoms, and even as to inmosts; it was irresistible. Twice this arm has appeared to me; and hence it has been given me to know that arms signify strength, and hands power. There was also felt a warmth exhaling from that arm. That naked arm is presented to view in various positions, and according to them strikes terror; and in the position just mentioned incredible terror; for it appears able to break to pieces in an instant the bones and the marrows. They who have not been timid in the life of the body, are nevertheless in the other life driven into the greatest terror by that arm." (A. C. 4932-4935.)
This arm, we are told, in H. H. 231, is presented from those who are in the province of the arm, and is an embodiment of their power; but their power is not theirs separate from the rest of the heavens; they are in the practical truths of the uses of the heavens, and "into their truths good flows in from the whole heaven," and hence is [p. 260] their power. They exert their power in doing the work of the heavens, especially for those who are out of the heavens. "In general," Swedenborg says, "angels of every society are sent to men, to keep them, to withdraw them from evil affections and thoughts, and to inspire good affections as far as they receive them freely, by which also they rule the deeds or works of men, removing as far as possible evil intentions." (H. H. 391.) Again he says, --
"The will and understanding of man are ruled by the Lord, by angels, and spirits; and because the will and understanding, also all things of the body are so ruled, since these are thence. And if you will believe it, man cannot even move a step without the influx of heaven. That it is so has been shown me by much experience; it has been given to angels to move my steps, my actions, my tongue and speech as they would, and this by influx into my will and thought; and I found that I could do nothing of myself. They said afterwards that every man is so ruled, and that he might know this from the doctrine of the Church and from the Word, for he prays that God will send His [p. 261] angels who may lead him, guide his steps, teach him, and inspire what he should think and what he should speak, and other such things; although when he thinks in himself apart from doctrine, he says and believes otherwise. These things are related that it may be known how great power angels have with man.
"But the power of angels in the spiritual world is so great, that if I were to publish all that I have seen about it, it would exceed belief. If anything there resists, which must be removed because it is contrary to Divine order, they throw it down and overturn it merely by an effort of the will and a look. I have seen mountains which were occupied by the evil, thus cast down, and overthrown, sometimes shaken to pieces from one end to the other, as is the case in earthquakes, rocks also rent in the middle even to the deep, and the evil who were upon them swallowed up. I have also seen some hundreds of thousands of evil spirits scattered and cast into hell. Multitude avails nothing against them, neither arts nor cunning nor combinations; they see all and in a moment dispel it. ... Such power they have in the spiritual world. That angels have similar power in the natural world also, when it is granted, is manifest from the Word; as that they gave whole armies to slaughter, that they [p. 262] caused a pestilence of which seventy thousand men died; of which angel it is thus written, 'The angel stretched out his hand against Jerusalem to destroy it, but Jehovah repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough; stay now thy hand. And David saw the angel who smote the people.' . . . Because the angels have such power, they are called Powers; and it is said in David, 'Bless Jehovah ye His angels, most powerful in strength.'" (H. H. 228, 229.)
We could hardly ask for a plainer account of the work of the hands of the heavens. They bring forth, and are the instruments of the angelic love of doing good to men. They rule the spirits that are with men, removing the evil and strengthening the good. They are about us as the organs of the Lord's Providence to protect, guide, and care for us; and through them the whole heavens reach forth to share with men their love and power to do good. We see their work in the protection from danger which we experience daily and hourly; in the leadings which we so often follow away from unseen danger, or [p. 263] to unknown good; in the sense of strong support which comes in trouble; and especially in the lifting of the mind above the pains of the body and the cares of the world even to the gates of heaven, as the time of death gradually approaches.
They inspire the strength of a just cause, giving both protection and power to individuals and to armies. They are an irresistible power present with us, which can do anything that it is wise to do for the benefit of mankind.
"All the powers of the life of the Greatest Man, or heaven, terminate in the two hands and two feet; and the hands, as also the feet, terminate in ten fingers or toes." (A. E. 675 end.)
The power of the Lord through heaven is exerted through the angels of these provinces; and it is of them in a special sense, as the means of the Lord's protection and providence about men, that the Scriptures say, "The eternal God is thy dwelling-place, and underneath are the everlasting arms." (Deut. xxxiii. 27.)
The general functions of this kind are exercised [p. 264] by the hands as a whole; particulars of the function are performed by individual fingers. The angels of the thumb, like the thumb itself, can have no leading part, but are effective in cooperating with all those in the fingers.
The nails are of hair-like structure, protecting and stiffening the ends of the fingers. They have a correspondence with literal truths or precepts concerning the uses to be done, held not intelligently, but resolutely and inflexibly -- thus for the support of those who are sensitive and yielding.