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Kiss stole

Why I Kiss My Stole

Kiss stole
Pope Francis kisses his stole

Let me come clean with you: I kiss my stole, the altar, the Gospel Book; I cross myself; I bow towards the altar; I cross mind, lips, and heart at the Gospel; I pray with hands raised; I bow at the Name of Jesus; I genuflect for the Reserved Sacrament; I stand to pray; I process; I kneel; I lay on hands to pray for others; I shake hands and hug; I sing… I am not some disembodied spirit. I am enfleshed. And I pray with my body – not in spite of it, nor ignoring it. Prayer, for me, is not just stringing together endless words…

I guess some time I must have started doing these things. I can’t remember the first time I did any of these things. They are habits. If you don’t use your body in prayer (and of course your body is doing something when you pray…) try it. Don’t be embarrassed.

Friends pointed to Lutheran pastor, Benjamin Dueholm’s post “Why I kiss my stole“. He says:

…The importance of habit for religion, morality, and social harmony is taken for granted in most of the ancient religious and philosophical thought I’ve encountered. Jesus complicated things. He carried on the prophetic tradition of criticizing received habit and ritual formalism, criticizing, for instance, the custom of washing hands and vessels before eating. Pure intentions and just relationships can be obscured by adherence to such customs. But the power of meaning embedded in endlessly, reliably repeated actions is stronger than any one critique…

Jesus says

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others.

Sure, there’s a serious problem if we do only the outward things and neglect or negate their point, their meaning… “these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others”. Sure, if kissing your spouse is a mere formalism without any inner content, and the relationship is one of neglect and abuse – then “Woe to you!” But I cannot share the stark anti-bodily-expression perspective within the Christian spectrum that would, effectively, never kiss one’s spouse because that is merely “external ritual”…

Ritual actions, the scholars of religion tell us, are generally older and less liable to change than the words that accompany them, the stories that explain them, or the meanings we glean from them. …

There is great resilience in equivocal habits such as these. Ritual actions that sustain multiple meanings can linger, even as the movement of will that we call “belief” fades in and out. If there is indeed a renewal of high-liturgical worship among American Christians, I would guess that this is why. A worship experience rich in stable symbolism and repeated gesture can speak to us when the bare demand for assent and enthusiasm expressed by minimal liturgy does not.

I started kissing my stole when I was still awed to be wearing it and to be inhabiting the office it represents. I do it now as a sign of reverence for a task that must be faithfully and lovingly done whether or not I feel awed by it at a given moment.

I can’t make any great claim for the efficacy of such gestures. If I could, this efficacy would quickly substitute itself for the real meanings of the habit. But these meanings have silently connected hundreds of forgotten liturgies, hundreds of fellow humans journeying to healing or death, thousands of unremarkable family meals and bedtimes into a whole that is much bigger than any given moment. They are tiny soundings dropped from the little bark of consciousness into the ocean of life below….

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25 thoughts on “Why I Kiss My Stole”

  1. Peter Carrell

    Hi Bosco
    I can appreciate the tenor of your post in regard to its positive argument for bodily actions in prayer.

    I wonder if your negative or critical point about us wordy non-kissers is fair. Some of us read Scripture looking for some kind of dominical encouragement if not instruction to follow in regard to worshipping habits. So we find ‘do this in remembrance’ and celebrate the eucharist. But we find nothing enjoining us to wear stoles; even less instructing us to kiss them.

      1. Peter Carrell

        Hi Bosco
        One does not need to be ‘sola scriptura’ to ask why we wear robes, why we kiss them, how many robes are really required for decent, orderly worship (even you do not wear all the clobber you could!), whether we need as many people in the sanctuary as we sometimes see, whether one needs to bow every time one moves in, out, or across the sanctuary and so forth. There is such an accumulation of ‘things’ going on or being worn in worship services in some quarters that it is worth asking, ‘Would Jesus being doing all of this? What in the teaching and example of Jesus requires this arcane way of expressing our love for Jesus and reverence for God?’

          1. Peter Carrell

            Hi Bosco
            I am convinced that just as I do not need to be a Jewish bloke with a beard, neither do I need to wear a robe in order to emulate Jesus, nor wear or kiss stoles.

            I am happy to wear the minimum robes acceptable in our church as a sign of respect for the tradition we have inherited, though not from the apostles nor from Jesus, of whom the only information we have regarding his own robing was that it was seamless.

            We need to be careful to distinguish what helps us to feel we are following Jesus from what Jesus mandated us to do in order to be his followers.

          2. Thanks, Peter. I don’t see any clash between your comment and my post. I am not aware of anyone suggesting one needs “to wear a robe in order to emulate Jesus, nor wear or kiss stoles”.

            You bring up intriguing points, but they are making different points to this post. Following Jesus and emulating Jesus are also not simplistically interchangeable. Your approach of wearing just the minimum required is a fascinating principle – would you apply the same principle to using only the minimum words required?


    1. “. But we find nothing enjoining us to wear stoles; even less instructing us to kiss them.” – Dr. Peter Carrell –

      But, peter; would you consider wearing your academic hood in worship – which has far less spiritual significance than the priestly or diaconal stole?

      I’m interested that evangelical clergy are willing to wear the status symbol of their educational achievements,as a clergy vestment, while yet eschewing the traditional symbol of service in their sacerdotal ministry.

      1. Peter Carrell

        Hi Ron
        I do not own an academic hood and have never worn one in a worship service.

        But to the extent that an academic hood symbolises the teaching office of the minister in the church of God I have no objection to those who wear academic hoods in church.

        On certain winter days in churches of my acquaintance, the hood may be a necessary device to ward off the cold, almost as useful as a poncho.

  2. I agree totally, Bosco.
    Also remembering the necessity of examining ‘why’ from time to time – remembering the story of the guru’s cat.

  3. Trevor Morrison

    1 Timothy 2:8 (“pray, lifting up holy hands”) gives us a specific indication that our bodies as well as our spirits should be involved in our worship, but even if that text was absent from Scripture, I would still argue the same point on the basis of the general scriptural teaching that we are not disembodied spirits but beings with bodies that were part of the creation that was declared “good” by God. We deprecate God’s creation design if we do not involve our bodies consciously in our worship, instead treating them as incidental baggage, necessary to transport us to the place of worship but otherwise incidental to the process.

  4. Good stuff Bosco. It is the ‘body memory’ of these oft repeated actions that imbues them with power. Ritually speaking, they become part of our spiritual DNA and help us to move beyond mood and mind into sacred space. So important.

  5. In seminary we were told the story of the rector’s cat. Same idea. One of the acts of the ushers before the service could start was to close the sacristy door. Long story short, they had been doing that for 90 years because one rector’s cat would jump on the altar during services.

  6. I have assisted a few times in the y sanctuary in Syriac Orthodox churches, as I know the liturgical language. One elaborate liturgy, a deacon was assigned to stand beside me to keep an eye on me and tell me what to do. Other deacons would bring the thurible and other objects to me, and my guardian deacon’s vocabulary consisted of two words: ‘bless’ and ‘kiss’. So, I blessed and kissed my way through the entire liturgy.

  7. ‘I am not some disembodied spirit. I am enfleshed.’

    I would agree with this comment, Bosco. But I would respond that, for me, the enfleshment of my faith is primarily expressed in attempting to put the commands of Jesus into practice in my life (and I’m sure you would also see this as primary, and I’m not attempting to imply otherwise). To me, kissing or not kissing the stole is unimportant, rather on a par with what Paul says about circumcision: ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’ I have no quarrel with stole-kissers; I would hope that they also have no quarrel with me. It only becomes an issue if you make it an issue.

  8. Even non-stole-kissers, or even non-stole-wearers, pray as much with body as with words. Surely this is common across all Cristian traditions?

    I’ve mentioned to you previously, Bosco, as “pentecostals” we also stand, kneel, raise our hands, and occasionally even prostate ourselves while praying. I’ve also seen prayer happen while walking around the room, swaying from side to side and even dancing.

    1. Yes, Claudia. I’m with you totally on this – and thank you for raising prostrating. Those, of course, who do not think of themselves as “doing anything particularly with their body” in prayer – still are “doing something”. We cannot “do nothing” with our body… Blessings.

  9. I like your comparison with kissing the spouse.

    I still remember the neo-protestant minister preaching against the liturgical vestments, while he was wearing a suite and a tie. After the service, of course, I had an argument with him about his own cloths.

    It’s the same with those neo-puritans claiming they need no prayer-book, but who are shaping “spontaneous” prayers that repeat at every service, until they write them down in a notebook, «just for the record».

    While I am at Mass, I expect from the presiding priest/bishop to wear alb, stole and chasuble, because those vestments remind them they are supposed to act in Christ’s person. Vestments are genderless, covering the person’s things in order to better show whom s/he represents.

    Wearing the vestments is being bodily set appart from the wordly work. Wearing them in an improper way is a clericalist act. Not wearing them at all should be a better thing, if the priest doesn’t know what they are good for.

    Now, I don’t know whether kissing vestments, Gospel-books and crosses is really hygyenic. It is rather not. Personally, I use to bow in front of them, rather than leave my lip print thereon.

  10. Besides all the deeply spiritual reasons I do a lot of these manual acts, one of the other reasons I do them is I know myself pretty well, and I and a terrible daydreamer… always have been. Kissing my stole’s cross, saying the “keyhole prayers”, kneeling, etc. help me to pay attention, and when I have drifted off (as I so often do), they refocus me.

  11. mike greenslade

    Thanks Bosco. What also interests me is how prayer can inhabit our movements – when we work, exercise and play. The sense of ‘God with (in) us’ as we engage in the labour of living is worthy of exploration.

    1. Yes, Mike, great point. I guess in so many ways liturgy is like play – we find the sacred in liturgy, like play, so that we might find the sacred beyond liturgy in our day-to-day lives. Blessings.

  12. Like Bosco, I kiss things, usually accompanied by a prayer, but I don’t get precious about it – it isn’t essential. Just a question though – I was taught that it is not the stole qua stole that is kissed, but the cross that is usually embroidered on the nape. I do wear the occasional stole has no cross, in which case I don’t kiss the unembroidered nape. Is that correct?

    1. Thanks, Paul. I wonder if your question doesn’t contradict your statement? If it isn’t essential, and you don’t get precious about it, how is there a “correct” kissing? None of the stoles I have has a cross at the nape. Blessings.

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