“In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.” – Dacher Keltner
What is the Theology?
In the Christian tradition, touch, compassion, healing, and love often intersect. In the Old Testament, touch is a fundamental concern of the Law and holiness (Lev. 6:27, 7:19-21). The ministry of Jesus is full of moments in which, filled with compassion, Christ brings healing and restoration to the needy through the means of physical touch (Matt. 20:34; Mark 5:27; Luke 6:19). Today, as churches continue to show compassion and love through the imposition of ashes, anointing with oil, passing the peace, foot washing, and the laying of hands in prayer, they might benefit from reflection on modern scientific understanding behind these important spiritual practices.
What to Consider
- What are some best practices to safeguard your pastoral practice of touch in a way that is culturally and contextually appropriate?
- How might developing your own spirituality of touch inform your ability to show compassion and love? How might the scientific benefits of touch shape your pastoral identity?
- How can you show compassion and love to those who do not prefer or feel comfortable with physical touch? How can such persons still participate in touch-based church practices?
- Does your church have familiar rituals or practices (liturgical or otherwise) that involve touch? How do you see the science of touch at work in those practices?
How to go Deeper
- Preach on the theme of touch in Jesus’ ministry and demonstrate how scientific research complements the testimony of Scripture.
- Be intentional about getting to know your community and its members to discern how comfortable they are with touch. Stay informed on the issues of touch and abuse in church contexts so that you can practice touch wisely and responsibly.
- Encourage your community to see their church practices involving touch as opportunities to show love and compassion.
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