Teasing and Tickling

The weather has been hot, which is nothing unusual here in Arizona this time of year. The humidity has been uncomfortable. Okay, ninety percent is humid and miserable for those back home in the south, especially when the thermometer hovers above ninety degrees F. For us, though, we are used to lack of humidity, even now, in the early evening, it feels humid at twenty percent. At six o’clock this morning, it was a balmy thirty percent at ninety degrees. In short, it has been very uncomfortable. The weather reports keep saying we’ll have rain in this corner of the Valley of the Sun, but so far, we’ve had only a few 30-second rainstorms.

The weather is teasing us, sending us humidity. Still, no rain comes to alleviate the severe drought that is emptying our rivers and lakes. It is getting serious. On the other side of the Valley (fifty miles away), and up north in the mountains, they’re getting enough rain to cause inconveniences or even serious flooding. In one town up north, flooding left forty-four people who could not be reported safe for about twenty-four hours. Luckily, all were found alive and well. 

Teasing is seldom nice, although some families do it with love and mutual enjoyment. Sibling teasing, though, is seldom funny to the recipient. Teasing can lead to bullying, which is never good, whether from a sibling, a person in authority, a teacher, a priest or other clergy, or even a classmate or co-worker. We seem to live in a culture where bullying is decried publicly but is allowed unchecked privately. We seem helpless to do anything about it. Yet, many acts of mass violence seem rooted in someone’s experiences of being bullied until they take it upon themselves to turn the tables. How many deaths have we had this year already because of situations like that?

There is another form of teasing, though. Did you ever try tickling trout or noodling catfish? It’s usually done in reasonably calm water and requires slow, almost imperceptible movements. The fingers start at the base of the tail and slowly tickle the fish along the belly until the fisherman reaches the head. Then the fish is nabbed by the gills and lifted from the water. The fish seems to enjoy the tickling part as it puts them in a seeming trance until they suddenly find themselves out of the water and in someone’s cooler.

I wonder – are there times when God uses the same kind of technique to more or less move us along or at least get us to a place where we are quiet enough to listen to what we are being told? Does the Spirit use her feathers to soothe us into a state in which we are open to suggestions and directions? Sometimes, whispering in the ears doesn’t work, and we are too busy to pay attention. So if we find a quiet pool in which to swim, maybe that’s the best time to get us in the mood to listen. 

These days, quiet pools are often very few and far between, or they suit alligators and other predators searching for easy dinners. Even at night, when we try to compose ourselves to sleep, the hum of a mosquito or the constant rattling of windows from passing cars with extra-loud bass speakers get in the way. We seem to fall asleep immediately from exhaustion or lie twitching or turning when sleep seems to have gone on vacation.

Suppose we could just get to the point where we can lie there, maybe add a few prayers to our daily quota, or contemplate something we have heard or read. In that case, God (and the Spirit) have a chance to get a word in edgewise, even if they have to tickle us into a kind of trance. No tickling of the feet should be required. 

We must learn to tease our minds and bodies into a place where we are open to what is around us and what thoughts come to us. Little ideas that come to us during our busy times are still in the brain, and maybe we need to noodle them into our calmer consciousness. 

Not long ago, I was trying to sleep when I remembered thinking earlier in the day that maybe I could return to knitting prayer shawls as a ministry rather than merely a way to keep my hands busy or, as the old saying goes, off the streets and out of the bars. (Even my Southern Baptist relatives use that saying!) Knitting is calming, soothing, and relaxing. It is also creating something for someone else who may need the comfort and feeling of being hugged when needed, even if no human arms are present at the time. I have begun knitting again for other people and finding joy in it, even if I don’t know for whom each item is intended or how I will know it’s needed. 

The challenge is, what can we do to find our own quiet pools and places to let ourselves feel safe and relaxed enough to let God in? It’s a challenge that can improve our relationship with God and release our bodies from tension and anxiety simultaneously. 

Come to think of it, the sound of rain on the tin roof does that for me. I wonder when I’ll hear it again. (Deep sigh.)Image: Tickling policy,  Political cartoon depicting George Houstoun Reid on a shoreline, tickling a fish labeled “voter.” Australian cartoon by Livingston Hopkins (1846-1927). Cartoon dated between 1900-1900. Found at Wikimedia Commons.

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