The Intimacy Of Face Touching

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Referencing the scene which begins the clip above from the excellent film, Life as a House, in which Kevin Kline plays a man dying of cancer, Clergy Guy ruminates on his own experiences with touching the faces of the sick and explores the role of touch in intimacy:

The scene resonated with me because within the last year I’ve gotten bolder about touching people’s faces. When they lay sick in the hospital, I place my palm on their foreheads like I’m taking their temperature. At a time of grief, when I’m hugging someone, I’ll sometimes pat her cheek or the back of his head.

Another time, I was on my knees in front of a woman sitting in a hospital waiting room while her son was fighting for his life. I held her hand and placed my forehead on it.

It’s intimate without being too invasive. I don’t do it often or lightly and I try to gauge how the person takes it. It has never been easy trying to find that balance between offering tender support and crossing the line of appropriateness.

Face and head touching is quite powerful. I think that’s why people open up to their barbers and hairdressers. In church we use it for baptism and anointing. The Pentecostals touch the people on the forehead so they’ll be “slain in the spirit.”

I don’t believe in that Pentecostal practice, but I wonder if that isn’t what the scripture is getting at when it speaks of laying hands on someone. There really is something about physical touch that brings one’s spirit close to another.

Face touching is my way of reaching past the loneliness, especially during times of great sickness or distress.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://atheists-and-christians.blogspot.com/ Mike aka MonolithTMA

    I remember the critics weren’t crazy about that movie, but I enjoyed it. After reading Clergy Guy’s post the other day I started to think about touching. I hug my parents and sister every time I see them. Robyn, my fiance, and I are frequently holding hands and will often stop each other wherever we are to embrace. I hug several of my friends, the ones who are comfortable with it anyway.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Yeah, I have a weakness for melodrama…


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