Touching the Divine

“What are bodies for?” Elizabeth Lewis Hall asks. Modern thinking gives the body no ultimate purpose – bodies are simply made to be transcended and controlled – while postmodernity turns the body into a commodity – bodies are marketed, sold, consumed. From a social science and biblical perspective, however, Hall shows that bodies are meant for connection and relationship – to God, to others, and to His creation.[1] Nowhere is this more clear to me than at my church.

It’s Sunday at Comunidad Cristiana Nueva Creación. Each new person who enters the room makes the rounds to greet the others.  Hugs and kisses on the cheek are passed from one person to the next (except for men – it’s inappropriate for two men to kiss each other on the cheek). The ritual is reenacted after the church service, when Oscar, our worship leader, encourages all of us to embrace upon dismissal. No encouragement needed. Children, women, and men weave their way amidst the bodies, hugging, kissing, patting, squeezing, blessing. But the touching doesn’t stop there. As if two kisses for each person weren’t enough, after coffee hour, goodbyes involve another round of greetings. By the time I leave church, I have given and received about three kisses for each person in the church, let’s see…about 90 in total.

The kissing ritual has taken a while to grow on me. When we first started attending Nueva Creación, I was fine with the hugs, but kissing grown men and women? Not so much. I would lean forward rigidly and placed my cheek next to theirs, making the appropriate kissing sound, but careful not to make contact between lips and skin. Most of the congregation approached me without reservation. Elders graced me with bold smacks. Older women held me captive in their warm, perfumy arms much longer than I thought necessary. Sometimes my awkward attempts resulted in head bumps and apologies.

I can’t say that I am much more graceful now, but I have learned to appreciate this form of love. I used to joke with a couple friends in college about a study we heard that human beings need something like 12 significant touches a day to be healthy: “Have you gotten your significant touches today?” Surely, each kiss I get at church is one of these significant touches. In each, I am reminded that the body of Christ is not some ephemeral essence out there, but this little old lady in front of me with her soft, saggy cheeks and pungent floral perfume, or this stocky man with his glistening skin and robust hugs. With each touch, I receive through my skin and into my being the truth that I am not an isolated, disconnected individual, but a part of the Body of Christ, knit together (albeit awkwardly at times) with the other members. I am loved, I am enfolded, I am a part of a mystery bigger than myself. When I reach out to kiss Guadalupe or Alma or Tony, I am touching the divine.

[1] See Hall’s article “What are Bodies for? An Integrative Examination of Embodiment” in Christian Scholars Review (2010, 39, no. 2), for a full discussion.