here below is a recent article by one of my favourite and funny English Clergy.
The other week I was struck by how two separate people, in the course of different meetings, reached out a finger to a table and a door and muttered, ‘Touch wood!’ It set me thinking and three questions came to mind.
The first, quite simply, is what does this superstition mean? In fact when you do a bit of digging around on the Internet, it turns out that no one absolutely knows for certain. ‘Knocking on wood’, as it is called in some countries, as a sort of supernatural insurance policy seems to be an almost global phenomenon and there are all sorts of proposed explanations. Personally, I am taken with the suggestion that it reflects the belief that evil could be avoided by touching the wood of a cross representing the power of Jesus Christ.
The second question is more interesting: why does such a superstition still persist in our modern age? After all, the people I heard uttering ‘touch wood’ were educated, intelligent people yet they were utterly confident that they were touching wood to avoid bad luck. I suggest that many people have a spiritual awareness which mixed with uncertainty and fear fuels the leaning towards anything superstitious.
The third question arises: is the practice of ‘touching wood’ a good or bad thing. Well if you are a Christian, muttering ‘touch wood’ is clearly not necessary. You have no need for such superstitions; after all God, our heavenly parent, is in control of your existence. I am reminded of the lines from an old hymn ‘In Christ Alone’: ‘No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me; From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.’ Exactly! It is /Jesus/ who commands and controls what happens in our life. We are in the safest of hands.
And if you’re not a Christian? Well I’d suggest that you think about why you say ‘touch wood’. You see, to perform this little ritual is to make an admission; it is to concede that you are not the master of your own destiny. Whether this superstition originally meant to reach out to a wooden cross I don’t know. Honestly, even if it was the authentic cross of Christ, touching it wouldn’t do you any good. That’s not how things work. But if, facing an uncertain future, you reach out in faith, not to the cross but to the One on it, that’s a very different matter.
To put your life under the control of the God who in Christ loved you so much he died for you is, quite simply, the only safe way to face the future.
J.John Revd Canon