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Valentine's Day: Dr Denton Weiss on The Gift of Love and the Healing Power of Touch

By Dr. Denton D. Weiss, M.D.
February 14th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As a Physician, love is often expressed in the touch of my hands to the patients placed before me. Jesus touched the lepers head and he was healed. The words have rolled through my mind since Mass last Sunday when it was proclaimed in the Gospel text (Mk 1: 40-45). Wow, the power of love and the power of touch.We were made by Love and we were made for love. It is love which makes us happy. It is love which makes us fully human.Remember this when you give that box of chocolates and roses to your love this Valentine's Day.

PORTSMOUTH, VA. (Catholic Online) - "Dear Dr Denton, tell me about Love." You may be surprised, but I hear that question a lot as I care for those in my care. We all need to love. We were made for love. In fact, we will never be happy without love.

There are many expressions of love within the multitude of relationships we are given in our lives. They are all gifts. However, there is a language limitation - our inability in English to verbally express those different kinds of love. The gift of LOVE has so many faces.

Agape means "love" (unconditional love) in Greek. This was considered a love so deep it was sacrificial. The love of Jesus for us - and the love we can have for Him - is the greatest love of all. In the Greek language there is no greater word to describe Love.

The greatest expression of that Love came on the Hill at Golgotha where Jesus poured Himself out for us. He freely gave Himself. That love, the love of Self-Gift, is the highest expression of love. The beloved disciple John wrote in his Gospel of the Father's great love, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Eros is a passionate love. It often involves a love of longing and engages a sensual desire, expressed within the marital embrace. However, the word "eros" can also describe an intimate love for another which is not sexual in nature as well. It is deeper than the love of friendship. For example, I (Eros) love my wife. However, she is also my very best friend.

The language of the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament reveals the beauty of that expression of erotic love as the lover proclaims "Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine. " (Song of Songs 1:2)

Philia is another Greek word sometimes used to describe the love of friendship.  The friendship between Jonathan and David in the Old Testament is a wonderful example, "By the time David finished speaking with Saul, Jonathan's life became bound up with David's life; he loved him as his very self. Saul retained David on that day and did not allow him to return to his father's house. Jonathan and David made a covenant, because Jonathan loved him as his very self." (1Samuel18:1-3)

The Greek word Storge is the love described as natural affection. It is used to describe a love within the family structure. For example - I "storge" my sister. This would mean I have natural familial love for my sister. The admonition St Paul gave to the Christians in Rome is another good example, "Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor." (Romans12:9, 10)

So I love my sister, my friend, my wife, and my Lord. They are all different, yet they are all love. We do not have different words in English to make the distinctions. How we love is much greater than the one word we use. The Love of our Lord Jesus Christ for everyone of us involves all these kinds of love and so much more. In fact, all human love is elevated and transformed in and through His Love.

The Lord's love for us is familial (storge). He is my loving friend (Philia). My Lord Jesus is also my intimate love.  He knows my most passionate thoughts and emotions (Eros). Jesus in the Pieta lies in Mary's arms. This beautifully symbolizes the greatest love of all.  Sacrificial love, poured out Love, surrendered love, resting in the loving arms of the Mother of Pure Love. (Agape).

The love of Valentine's Day is meant to help us come to more fully comprehend all of the above - though eros gets most of the credit. That is why this day, Valentine's Day, means so much to us. It is a reminder of our need to be loved, and need to give love. It invites us to express our love to all whom we love - in the appropriate ways befitting the nature of the love.

As a Physician, love is often expressed in the touch of my hands to the patients placed before me. Jesus touched the lepers head and he was healed. The words have rolled through my mind since Mass last Sunday when it was proclaimed in the Gospel text (Mk 1: 40-45). Wow, the power of love and the power of touch.

Let's consider the power of love in the touch of our hand to another in need. True Love in a touch is unconditional, intimate, one of friendship and sometimes familial. We hug a stranger and all those parts of love begin to occur.

As I walk into a patient's room I often kiss their cheek or give them a hug or both. Why? Because I care - and because I know that the power of touch has the power to heal. If we can achieve agape love for each other then we actually have the power of God in the tips of our fingers. Beautiful isn't it!

The Mayo Clinic has a program called the Healing Touch that is based on the power of human touch to assist in the healing of sick and wounded. An article in JAMA reviewed 80+ articles that studied therapeutic touch as means of helping patients. The only documented improvement in health was in anxiety and stress reduction.

Dementia patients have been found to have less restlessness and irritability when exposed to therapeutic touch twice a day. Schniederman et al, 2012, reported the effect on oxytocin levels in new lovers. In their work they looked at the blood levels of oxytocin a neuropeptide found in the brain. It is sometimes called the hormone of love. The findings showed that couples who stayed together vs. the single individuals who separated had higher levels of oxytocin in their bodies.

The study demonstrated that oxytocin correlated with the couples' interactive reciprocity, including social focus, positive affect and affectionate touch. They suggest that parental and romantic attachment share underlying bio-behavioral mechanisms. Could this be love?  Eros. Philia..?

Gordon et al, 2010, looked at the levels of oxytocin and the correlation of touch and interaction in the family. 37 parents were evaluated at the 2nd and 6th postpartum (after the birth of their 1st child). Triadic synchrony was evaluated through video tape analysis and both oxytocin and cortisol levels were analyzed.

Triadic synchrony is defined as moments of coordination between physical proximity and affectionate touch between the parents as well as between parent and infant while both parent and child are synchronizing their social gaze.

Elevated oxytocin levels were able to be predicted by the interactin between the child, mother, and father. Among mothers, triadic synchrony was also independently related to lower levels of coritisol (stress hormone). These results beautifully highlight the role of oxytocin in the early formation of the family unit at the transition to parenthood.

Love within the family demonstrated by gaze and touch leads to a chemical change in our bodies. The Bonding of Child to the Parents does the same! When your Bride is carrying your child, place your hand on her tummy. As you feel the little one within your bonds are made. That bond of the three, in a mysterious and wonderful way, points us toward the Love of the Trinity.

None of this medical information should surprise us. We were made by Love and we were made for love. It is love which makes us happy. It is love which makes us fully human. Remember this when you give that box of chocolates and roses to your love this Valentine's Day. Look in her eyes and hold her hand and remember it may be Eros, but it's really Agape.  The power of Touch, the power of the gift, the power of Love. Happy Valentines Day!

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Dr Denton D. Weiss, M.D. is board certified in both Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Dr. Weiss' approach to his medical practice flows from his convictions about the meaning of life which are deeply rooted in his Catholic Faith. He and his wife, Michelle strive for an integrated approach to life which recognizes the unity of the body, mind and soul. They call this approach "Bella Vitae" or "Beautiful Living". He, and Michelle, are contributing writers to Catholic Online.

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