Chapter XIV – Intimacy
I want intimacy in my human, physical and relational life, even in intimacy’s inherent vulnerability. It is a great help to me to know that medical science has now been able to definitively prove that humans who do not touch, or are not touched by other humans, turn inward, wizen, sicken and die. This medical proof helps me to know that my desire for human touch and relational intimacy are normal.
Human babies are born six months early because if they are not, their heads will be too large to emerge from human wombs. Being born “early” means that human baby’s eyes and ears are underdeveloped and so they get most of what they know from being touched. A newborn deer will be up and moving in a few minutes. Human babies will take 9 months for anything like mobility. We know that after only 8 weeks in the womb’s gestation, a baby recoils from touch. And we know that the same cells that form skin also form the nervous system – so – skin is an external kind of nervous system, designed, I suspect, to help us to connect to the planet and to each other. So, touch is essential. Americans and vigorous church-goers, generally, are often so sexually repressed that touch is frightening to them because it threatens to lift the lid on a boiling pressure-cooker inside them. So there is cancer, relational abuse, high divorce rates and church conflict.
I want to touch and to be touched. We need boundaries and I respect them – especially those with parishioners, given that I am a priest. However, my friends are people who touch me and who welcome non-sexual touch. And now that I have been hit by a train, survived, and have lost all smell and taste; touch is all the more important to me and has been heightened.
Physical intimacy need not be sex and is too often confused for it. When I meet angry, bitchy, cranky people I usually assume (often rightly) that they are starved of intimacy in their life. The intimacy/repression/angry cycle is a viscous one. So it is important that I make and work to keep friends who want intimacy, gently rejecting those for whom intimacy is unimportant or for whom intimacy is difficult due to a relational or psychological disability.
The church has two main icons which lead its pilgrimage. One is that of the latin churches – the icon of Saint Peter with they keys. This icon is one of power and control. The other icon of the church is that of the Celtic churches – the icon of Jesus with The Beloved Disciple whose head is laid on his chest during the last supper. The Celtic icon resonates with me and so I embrace a more Celtic, earthy spirituality, choosing theologians like John O’Donahue and John Phillip Newell as my teachers in life. I respect other forms of Christianity, but have become peaceful with not embracing them. So intimacy with God is important to me as is friendship. I believe God wants intimacy. Why would God become human – a being who can touch and feel the caress of a friend and even the nails of an empire, if not to be willing to enter time and intimacy? So prayer is important to me, not to download wisdom or directions, but to have intimacy with a God which seems to so welcome intimacy.