“The physical kiss should be offered or accepted only for fixed and honest reasons.” Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship
Sometimes we need to stop and reflect on our anatomy. What a remarkable feature of the human body that it seems custom designed to give, and to receive, a kiss. Wherever I go I carry with me the power to kiss someone.
It is not surprising that something so beautiful, so powerful, would be subject to misuse and selfishness. Aelred suggests that proper use of the kiss is restricted: there are certain fixed occasions appropriate for kissing. A kiss is always a sign–of something honest and true. Such as a host’s welcome to a guest; a person’s joy upon the return of a long-absent friend; and spouses’ love for one another.
The kiss of a man and a woman in love is surely unlike any other kiss. Spouses look back to their first kiss, given and received with trembling, and fear, and anticipation. It uniquely contained a promise, and a foreshadowing. It gives occasion now for self-examination. Have I been true to that kiss; nay more, have I become less selfish? My kiss today, as likewise our very life together, should be more other-centered than it was then.
For married and unmarried alike our challenge is to kiss and be kissed as appropriate, when appropriate, for fixed and honest reasons. With some people, or in some circumstances, we show greater love, and respect, precisely by not kissing. In the end, a loving union of persons is the great reality to be achieved. Such spiritual communion, forged in self-denial and in joy, both enlivens and far surpasses all bodily signs of it.
St. Aelred (1109-1167) was the abbot of the English Cistercian monastery in Rievaulx. He is most known for his treatise On Spiritual Friendship.
Image: Waiting for an Answer, by Winslow Homer
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