THE LANGUAGE OF TOUCH
Our sense of touch connects us to the world in an intimate way. As the mother of distance, the eye shows us that we are outside things. There is a magnificent piece of sculpture by Rodin called The Kiss. The sculpture shows two bodies reaching for each other, straining towards the kiss. All distance is broken in the magic of this kiss; two distanced ones have finally reached each other. Touch and the world of touch brings us out of the anonymity of distance into the intimacy of belonging. Humans use their hands to touch, explore, trace and feel the world outside them. Hands are beautiful. Kant said that the hand is the visible expression of the mind. With your hands, you reach out to touch the world. In human touch, hands find the hands, face or body of the Other. Touch brings presence home. The activity of touch brings us close to the world of the Other. The eye readily translates its objects into intellectual terms. The eye appropriates according to its own logic. But touch confirms the Otherness of the body it touches. It cannot appropriate, it can only bring its objects closer and closer. We use the word ‘touching’ to describe a story which moves us deeply. Touch is the sense through which we experience pain. There is nothing hesitant or blurred in the contact which pain makes with us. It reaches the core of our identity directly, awakening our fragility and desperation.
It is recognised now that every child needs to be touched. Touch communicates belonging, tenderness and warmth which fosters self-confidence, self-worth and poise in the child. Touch has such power because we live inside the wonderful world of skin. Our skin is alive and breathing, always active and ever present. Human beings share such tenderness and fragility because we live not within shells, but within skin which is always sensitive to the force, touch and presence of the world.
Touch is one of the most immediate and direct of the senses. The language of touch is a language in itself. Touch is also subtle and distinctive and holds within itself great refinement of memory. A concert pianist came to visit a friend. He asked her if she would like him to play something for her. He said ‘At the moment I have a lovely piece from Schubert in my hands.’
The world of touch includes the whole world of sexuality; this is probably the most tender aspect of human presence. When you are sexual with someone, you have let them right into your world. The world of sexuality is a sacred world of presence. The world of Eros is one of the devastated casualties of contemporary commercialism and greed. George Steiner has written powerfully about this. He shows how the words of intimacy, the night words of Eros and affection, the secret words of love, have been vacated in the neon day of greed and consumerism. We desperately need to retrieve these gentle and sacred words of touch in order to be able to engage our full human nature. When you look at your inner world of soul, ask yourself how your sense of touch has developed. How do you actually touch things? Are you alive or awakened to the power of touch both as a sensuous and tender and healing force? A retrieval of touch can bring a new depth into your life; and it can heal, strengthen you and bring you closer to your self.
Touch is such an immediate sense. It can bring you in from the false world, the famine world of exile and image. Rediscovering the sense of touch returns you to the hearth of your own spirit, enabling you to experience again warmth, tenderness and belonging. At the highest moments of human intensity, words become silent. Then, the language of touch really speaks. When you are lost in the black valley of pain, words grow frail and dumb. To be embraced and held warmly brings the only shelter and consolation. Conversely, when you are completely happy, touch becomes an ecstatic language.
Touch offers the deepest clue to the mystery of encounter, awakening and belonging. It is the secret, affective content of every connection and association. The energy, warmth and invitation of touch comes ultimately from the divine. The Holy Spirit is the wild and passionate side of God, the tactile spirit whose touch is around you, bringing you close to your self and to others. The Holy Spirit makes these distances attractive and laces them with fragrances of affinity and belonging. Graced distances make strangers friends. Your beloved and your friends were once strangers. Somehow at a particular time, they came from the distance towards your life. Their arrival seemed so accidental and contingent. Now, your life is unimaginable without them. Similarly, your identity and vision is composed of a certain constellation of ideas and feelings which surfaced from the depths of distance within you. To lose these now would be to lose your self. You live and move on divine ground. This is what St. Augustine said of God: The subtle immediacy of God, the Holy Spirit, touches your soul and tenderly weaves your ways and your days.