Everyone has seen a picture or model of that most famous etching, ‘Praying hands’. Copies of it can be seen all over the world. All it portrays is a pair of hands clasped together in prayer – that’s all. The artist was Albrecht Durer. There is a story behind it.
Around the year 1490 A.D. there were two struggling men who were best friends.Both gifted artists.Franz Knigstein and Albrecht Durer. They were so wretchedly poor that they could not afford to train their artistic gifts but had to toil manually just to survive on a crust of bread. In desperation they decided that one should work full time, and support the other at art school, each in turn. Albrecht won the toss, and was first to join great artists in training. Franz worked his fingers to the bone to support his friend and himself through those years.
In time Albrecht returned, now successful as an artist, to do his part of the deal, and to send Franz to be trained in his artistry.But to the dismay of both, the heavy continuous manual labour had ruined Franz’s hands totally from the sensitivity and touch his art would have required.Thus he had, unwittingly at first, forfeited his own artistic career out of loyalty to his friend.
Well, the story continues, that one day Albrecht inadvertently walked in on his friend at prayer.The gnarled, worn hands were clasped together in prayer. In haste Albrecht sketched the moment, and it was those hands, now useless to any artist, which have become the universal symbol of sacrificial human prayer. No words are required, no introduction is needed, yet the praying hands call all who see them to prayer. This is from the heart-broken prayer we call Psalm 137:
Our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”. How can we sing the songs of the lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. Psalm 137: 3b-5
Words to meditate:
The great preacher, Alexander Whyte, ended a wondrous study of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24) with the words:
“As the stranger handed Cleopas and his companion the bread he had blessed and broken, they could not but see – His hands”.
Now read Psalm 137 and feel the frustration but without the vengefulness.