In Filipino culture, Mano Po is a sign of respect shown to our elders. When greeting a grandparent, the younger takes the hand of the elder and gently taps the back of the hand on the forehead. Mano means hand in Tagalog. Po is a term of respect.
Respect. Obedience. Two terms that do not resonate in current cultural climate. But to me this gesture reflects the type of love that generates both obedience and respect in ways that we have lost.
As a Filipina born and raised in America I did not naturally practice the gesture of mano po. Looking back as I approach my years as an “elder”, this gesture seems so intimate and endearing– to take the hand of a respected one and rest it on your forehead.
A gesture of reverence
This gesture of reverence by placement on the forehead is portrayed in a similar way in Jewish culture. Very devout Jews practice the tradition of tying phylactery boxes to their forehead, literally placing written fragments of God’s word inside the box.
This practice came from the passage in Deuteronomy known as the Shema, a traditional prayer memorized and recited:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” Deuteronomy 6:6-8
Both gestures of placing something beloved in between the eyes, on the forehead, demonstrate reverence. In the same way one culture honors a beloved elder, the truth of God’s word was honored in traditional Jewish culture. These traditions reflect that an elder and God’s word are to be honored and obeyed.
Walk this way
In Hebrew the word obedience is translated as way, road, distance, journey, manner.
The word obedience in the Hebrew language is translated “walk in this way”. The portrait of obedience in this language is walking in a way that is familiar and cherished. These words take out the negative connotation that submission and compliance have painted. Obedience in this picture is an act of love.
In the small things we walk through each day we demonstrate obedience. The conversation with a hurting friend. The laughter with a family member. The faithfulness we put into our work. The time we spend quiet before the Lord, taking in his word to strengthen us to complete the next steps of obedience.
Jesus told his closest followers during his last evening with them, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” John 14:23. It was a statement. Not a command. The one who came down from heaven at Christmas to walk among us, to show us his father’s ways, shared this observation. The Shema that the people of God recited and memorized was lived out and obeyed in the daily walk of Jesus. Jesus, the one who came to earth to live out and demonstrate obedience from the time of his birth to his final act of love on the cross.
Obedience follows love
Obedience follows love. Love comes from knowledge. Knowing someone comes from time spent together. Time spent together leads to trust and intimacy. Intimacy leads to the desire to please and serve and obey the loved one.
The physical location “on your hands” and “between your eyes” is a symbol with fairly obvious meaning. Your eyes are the place where you see and you use your hands for almost everything you do. This prayer was to guide the vision and action of every moment of life. This is why John the visionary says that in the new creation, when God’s people live in intimate proximity to God and the risen Jesus, “They will see God’s face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Revelation 22:4
Small gestures reflect obedience
Small gestures of love and respect reflect an obedient heart.
In her last days, I took the soft, slender hand of my aging mother and placed it on my forehead. She smiled in return. She earned my love and obedience, and cherished this demonstration of respect.
I did not demonstrate it often enough.
Throughout her life my mother demonstrated love and obedience to me and to others. Her love for God overflowed in her daily life all of her 95 years. Now she is daily in His presence, living in intimate proximity to God.
And His name is on her forehead.