the caress, respecting difference

From the 6th chapter of my book Becoming Two in Love: Kierkegaard, Irigaray, and the ethics of sexual difference, a reflection on the caress as this may embody an ethical intersubjectivity between man and woman. Expressed in somewhat poetic form:

We are by no means strangers. Years of a shared life form a thick and complex backdrop to our everyday conversations and encounters. Between us, the invitation to a caress is a summons to a privileged and private intimacy. And even if this invitation and encounter is marked by a degree of ambiguity or uncertainty, nevertheless a shared history of trust and care mean that the caress may be given, and received, in freedom. Risk remains, certainly—but who could or would mitigate every risk.

This one caressed—open palms moving in arcs of intimacy—she is alive before me, a mystery pressed and pressing against my very being. Is it possible that this caress, this tenderness of touch, might be less about me and less about my desires than it is about her? Is it possible that this touching upon might be less a grasping after her and more a simple affirmation that she is beyond me—that she is becoming fully alive as the woman she is? I have known her these many years, but might this touching upon be a reminder that she is and will be more than I can know?

Ribs rise and fall beneath a hand gently placed—her hand, mine. She lives and breathes, alive beyond my knowing. She lives and breathes in a rhythm of body and spirit that is not mine.

She is alive in the Spirit. She is alive in the living Breath of the One who would draw all to himself in gentleness and service. Through Christ I am created and called—she is created and called.

Can this caress become a reminder for her, and for me, of the most intimate life she has in the Spirit? In this touching upon, am I able to fade imperceptibly into the background as she becomes the self she is?

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