Inside each of us, beyond what we can express in words, picture clearly, or even feel distinctly, we have a dark memory of having once been touched and caressed by hands far gentler than our own. That caress has left a permanent mark, the imprint of a love so tender and good that its memory becomes a prism through which we see everything else. This imprint lies beyond conscious memory but forms the centre of the heart and soul.
This is not an easy concept to explain. Bernard Lonergan, one of the great intellectuals of the past century, tried to explain it philosophically. He said that we bear inside of our souls “the brand of the first principles.” That’s accurate, but perhaps too abstract to grasp. Maybe the old myths and legends capture it best when they say that, before birth, each soul is kissed by God and then goes through life always in some dark way remembering that kiss and measuring everything it experiences in relation to that original sweetness. To be in touch with your heart is to be in touch with this primordial kiss, with both its preciousness and its meaning.
What exactly is being said here?
Within each of us, at that place where all that is most precious within us resides, there is an inchoate sense of having once been touched, caressed, loved, and valued in a way that is beyond anything we have ever consciously experienced. In fact, all the goodness, love, value, and tenderness we experience in life fall short precisely because we already know something deeper. When we feel frustrated, angry, betrayed, violated, or enraged it is in fact because our outside experience is so different from what we already hold dear inside.
We all have this place, a place in the heart, where we hold all that is most precious and sacred to us. From that place our own kisses issue forth, as do our tears. It is the place that we most guard from others, but the place where we would most want others to come into; the place where we are the most deeply alone and the place of intimacy; the place of innocence and the place where we are violated; the place of our compassion and the place of our rage. In that place we are holy. There we are temples of God, sacred churches of truth and love. It is there that we bear God’s image.
But this must be understood: The image of God inside of us is not some beautiful icon stamped inside of the soul. No. The image and likeness of God inside of us is energy, fire, memory; especially the memory of a touch so tender and loving that its goodness and truth become the prism through which we see everything. Thus we recognize goodness and truth outside of us precisely because they resonate with something that is already inside of us. Things touch our hearts when they touch us here and it is because we have already been touched and caressed that we seek passionately for a soul mate, for someone to join us in this tender space.
And we measure everything in life by how it touches this place: Why do certain experiences touch us so deeply? Do not our hearts burn within us in the presence of any truth, love, goodness, or tenderness that is genuine and deep? Is not all deep knowledge simply a waking up to something we already know? Is not all love simply a question of being respected for something we already are? Are not the touch and tenderness that bring ecstasy nothing other than the stirring of deep memory? Are not the ideals that inspire hope only the reminder of words somebody has already spoken to us? Does not our desire for innocence (and innocent means “not wounded”) mirror some primal unwounded place deep within us? And when we feel violated, is it not because someone has irreverently entered the sacred inside us?
When we are in touch with this memory and respect its sensitivities we are feeling our souls. At those times, faith, hope, and love will be spring up in us and joy and tears will both flow through us freely. We will be constantly stabbed by the innocence and beauty of children and pain and gratitude will, alternately, bring us to our knees. That is what it means to be recollected, centred. To be truly ourselves is to remember, to inchoately touch and feel the memory of God in us. That memory is what both fires our energy and provides us with a prism through which to see and understand.
Today, too often, a wounded, calloused, cynical, over-sophisticated, and overly adult world invites us to forget, to move beyond this childishness (which is really child-likeness). It invites us to forget God’s kiss in the soul. But, unless we lie to ourselves and harden ourselves against ourselves, the most dangerous of all activities, we will always remember, dimly, darkly, the caress of God.