You Kiss What You Love

The number of people whom I regularly kiss is pretty small.

Jana, obviously, and my two sons, Brenden and Aidan. Plus my Mom and Dad. My siblings and their boys. And that's about it.

One of my fondest memories is of when the boys were small. After tucking them in at night we would give each other a peck on the lips to kiss goodnight. They were too small to be embarrassed about that. But as they grew older that tradition stopped.

But the other night I was walking by Brenden who was sitting in the living room studying. Brenden is seventeen. I hadn't kissed him a long time. But this night I bent over, lifted his bangs and kissed his forehead.

"You're never too old for your father to kiss you," I said.

He smiled back, "I know."

You kiss what you love.

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair and kissed them... (Luke 7.37-38)

The picture above is Pope Francis kissing the feet of elderly and disabled persons during Holy Week.

Rarely have I kissed women in church. But I have done it once or twice. In the midst of pain or suffering I've kissed a sister, often with tears, on the forehead. Those have been sacred moments.

I've actually kissed more men at church than women. When I visited South America it took me some time, as an American, to get used to the way the men greeted each other. You greeted not with a handshake but with an embrace and two quick kisses on each cheek.

You can imagine how much kissing there was on a Sunday morning at church in South America. It felt like I kissed everyone in attendance, every woman and every man.

It was at church in South America where I glimpsed the mystery and beauty of St. Peter's command (1 Peter 5.14): "Greet each other with a kiss of love." And while I cherish the passing of the peace in liturgical churches those handshakes don't live up to the kisses I shared in South America.

Because you kiss what you love.

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. (Acts 20.36-37)

I remember the first time I attended an Orthodox worship service. I was surprised to see before, during and after the service how everyone kissed the icons. Kissing the image of Jesus. Kissing Mary. Kissing the saints.

Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. (1 Thessalonians 5.26)

That was many years ago, that first service with the Orthodox. I have many of those same icons hanging in my office, along with a crucifix, above a prayer kneeler in my office. Upon rising from prayer I'll often kiss an icon of Jesus or kiss his feet on the crucifix. During Lent sometimes I'll kiss the five wounds of Jesus.

One kiss on his feet. A kiss each for his hands. A kiss on his side.

And then a final kiss, like with Brenden, upon his head, bleeding and encircled with thorns.

And sometimes, during the day, I'll lift the crucifix around my neck and kiss it.

That kiss is a wordless prayer.

I can't recall kissing being mentioned in any book I've ever read on theology, church or spiritual formation.

I think that's strange.

Because you kiss what you love.

And you come to love what you kiss.

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9 thoughts on “You Kiss What You Love”

  1. Seeing a kiss as a "wordless prayer" is very helpful to me. I think that is what was going on when I was caring for my Mom during the final stage of her life. When she reached the point of "Jude, I can't do this anymore," and asked me to stop praying for her healing, we mostly kissed and exchanged "I love you's" until she took her final breath.

  2. Is kissing an expression of love? An act of love? Is there something about kissing that makes it an apt symbol of love? What about Judas' kiss? These questions seem obtuse, because the answers are obvious on an intuitive level. But analytically they're complex--as I try to clarify my intuitions I'm stumbling through a conceptual maze. It seems like just about everything you discuss in Unclean comes to a point in the idea of a "holy kiss."

  3. I think of Francis' kissing the leper here. Prior he had a huge revulsive, OCD sort of reaction to lepers. And then, in overwhelmed with a sense of love, rushed up and kissed a leper.

    I think, with that holy kiss, Francis became Saint Francis.

  4. I am made to think of healthcare workers I have known who grew in compassion toward AIDS patients once they began working with them. While it may not be a literal kiss, I am reminded of the home health aid who helped a young man dying of AIDS back into his bed, who had fallen trying to go to the bathroom. As she put him back into his bed she realized she was covered with urine. When friends told her she was out of her mind for being so careless, she did not second guess her actions at all. To me it was obvious that the compassionate connection she had with that young man was greater than the shock and fear of her friends.

  5. So then: Judas' kiss.

    Interestingly, only Mark (14:44-45) and Matthew (26:48-49) (who is dependent on Mark), mention the kiss as a sign of identification to the police for the arrest of Jesus. John doesn't mention the kiss at all (18:1ff.), while in Luke, Judas approaches Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus interrupts Judas and it is not clear that the kiss actually occurs (22:47-48). It has been suggested that, in Luke, Judas' intention to kiss Jesus is a last-minute act of reverence. Unlikely, no doubt, but a tantalizing take on the text nevertheless. In any case, you only betray what you love, and betrayal issues not from hatred but from love gone wrong.

    The kiss is not just an expression of love, it is the intrinsically embodied practice of love. Love without kissing would be like a rose without scent.

  6. The kiss as a wordless prayer. Beautiful. That last one from my mom as she was dying was definitely that, thanks for raising my consciousness.

  7. Judy, just noticed your comment as I just now found myself leaving one very similar to yours.

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