Katie Delaney: National Hug Day

“If you were governor for the day, what would be your first policy?”  The question, posed by our social justice speaker during one of the first days of the Lasallian Volunteer (LV) Orientation, rang in the air, full of importance and intimidation. My answer was pivotal- this could determine how my fellow LVs would view me for the rest of the year. After a few “education reforms,” “increased pay for teachers,” etcetera 41 faces turned towards me. “If I were governor for the day, I would make a law that everyone must receive at least one hug a day.” Six months later, it seems only fitting that I write the LV Shared Blog post a day after National Hug Day. National Hug Day? That was yesterday? Apparently, there were some other observances yesterday that trumped this great holiday.

As with most things in an LVs experience, the seemingly simple act of giving or receiving a hug has taken on greater meaning and value in my first year of service.  What I could not have guessed is which of the three core values of the Lasallian Volunteers would bring about this change – faith.

As LVs, our journey in faith manifests itself in a number of ways: faith in oneself, faith in the students and clients one serves, faith in one’s community members and LV staff, and of course, faith in God. This last one was the most frustrating in my first few months of service. I felt like I could not connect with or find God’s presence in my prayer time. Exasperated, I asked one the LV staff members on my site visit: how could I feel this way in one of the most spiritually supportive environments I have ever lived in?

Our conversation changed everything. He explained a tradition (that I had been mindlessly participating in daily) which, in its essence, defines Lasallian spirituality: “Let us remember, we are in the holy presence of God.” Recited as an opening to every group prayer among Lasallians, this short phrase carries in it so much. Not only do we place ourselves in God’s presence in prayer, he explained, but we also find God’s presence in everything we experience – including each other. Mind = blown.

While I desired to grow in my relationship with God, I had trouble communicating with someone that I couldn’t feel was physically there. By adopting the Lasallian tradition, though, I have started to see God’s presence in every person I interact with. I have come to appreciate a hug, shared with another person, as a very real sign of God’s love.

Through a hug, we provide comfort, encouragement, love, and support. We share times of joy, excitement, grief, struggle, and growth. No matter what the circumstances, though, in every hug we give someone a glimpse of the love that our God has for us. We give each other God.

I think the following stanza, taken from a beautiful poem shared with me by my professional mentor here in Racine, explains this best. Written from the perspective of someone who has passed away, I think its sentiments could also reflect God’s:

And when you need me,

Put your arms around anyone

And give to them what you need to give to me.

There are so many who need so much….

God gives us each other so that when we can’t feel His physical embrace, all we must do is turn to the person next to us. “Let us remember, we are in the holy presence of God.” In remembering National Hug Day, I pray that you have the courage to see God in your neighbor, and allow them to see God in you. Happy hugging!

Katie Delaney, 12-13, John XXIII Educational Center, Racine, WI

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