Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hand Shaking and the impact of Science

In Christian worship, traditionally a point in the liturgy came where clergy and people would embrace with a ritual kiss, called the holy kiss, signifying the love of God and unity. I'm not speaking here of a passionate kiss, but a kind of perfunctory pecking.  In later eras, this was often restricted to the clergy alone, but has been reintroduced to the congregation as well in the past number of decades. In mediaeval England, the 'peace' or 'pax' (Latin for peace) was an actual object of wood or wax passed about the congregation to signify love and unity, and which each person would 'peck'.  The reintroduction in the later 20th century of this ritual came in the form of a handshake usually. In this part of the liturgy, people in the pews, standing at this point, would smile and shake hands with those nearby saying 'Peace be with you'. Although found mostly in Christian denominations where ritual is primary, it is also found sometimes among so-called 'anabaptists' or Mennonites.

This is a very circumscribed history and description of this practice just to set the scene for my point.

What actually interests me here is the element of human, physical contact. Ritual forms of Christianity do stress that worship should involve body, mind and soul working in a unity. Thus, the 'pax' or 'peace' or 'holy kiss' necessarily involves actual touching between Christians to join the physical with the spiritual and emotional - a wholeness.

In the 21st century, however, this touching, this physicality in the 'peace' is receding. People still say 'peace be with you' but they cross their arms and bow slightly and smile. The crossed arms indicate they do not intend to touch the other person. This absence of touch springs from our fear of germs and of illness and sickness spread person to person. Science tells us not to shake hands unless we have sanitized our bodies first.

It seems to me that far more is lost by this lack of human touch than is protected against. It seems to me that isolating ourselves in this way from others is a far greater disease than a cold or flu or any merely physical affliction.

Finally, it seems to me that this is a sign of a belief that only the physical matters and that physical suffering of any sort is far more to be feared than any spiritual outcome. I proffer my hand, and find that where someone responds in kind, we give each other a kind of .."aren't I daring and a rule breaker' smile.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


My body was following the straight lines of city sidewalks this evening with my dog Roscoe, but my mind was meandering here and there as is its wont.

I was thinking about hospitals. My wife is incarcerated in one of these rather mad institutions, but the keepers have decided to attempt a move to another system where she can get specialized care.

This is beside the point however. The hospital she is in is a part of an atheist healthcare system, while the other is Catholic Christian. This division occurred to me on a particularly straight section of sidewalk and a particularly meandering sweep of my mind. I asked myself why I classified the Juravinski hospital and the Hamilton Health Sciences system of hospitals as atheist. I answered myself this way: If one truly believes in God or a god or any transcendent entity or force (say the Dao, for example), then life must be structured around this fundamental, overarching reality. It would be like rocket scientists ignoring gravity to do otherwise. I can imagine such a scientist. I can't see gravity!  Therefore I will build this rocket and just pick it up and toss it up in the sky... and off it will go! Hmmmm. Well, Hamilton Health Sciences does its very best to apply the dictates and discoveries of modern medical science without reference to God. The system allows for God for patients - preachers and priests do stalk its corridors, but this belief is not imprinted in the DNA of the system.

St. Joseph's Healthcare System is somewhat different. It is a Catholic hospital system founded by an order of nuns in the 19th century. Looking at patients as a whole, in a holistic sense, used to be central to their mission. I am not sure this is the case anymore. The nuns no longer dominate or run the place. I hope that some vestige of this essential view of healing remains, lying in littered places in corners, picked up on the shoes of busy linear thinking medical scientists as they pass busily and importantly by. I suppose that is the difference between a hospital system that does not, in its heart, believe God exists and one founded on that belief. One regards healing as an exercise in repair, a mechanical act. The other regards healing as, well, as healing the whole person, not 'repair' of a mechanistic bodily system, but of a restoration of physical and emotional and mental balance. In short, healing.

Anyway, that is where my mind wandered as I walked in straight lines tonight.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

What is Religion?

Presently I am listening to a podcast from the CBC Radio program Tapestry. Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom is being interviewed. Quite apart from the fact he is a highly intelligent and thoroughly decent man and of course a very religious man was his definition of religion. The interviewer said she had a friend who no longer practiced the religion she was raised in, but felt a need to find one she could believe. Jonathan Sacks's reply was that in Judaism religion is not a set of beliefs. The word 'faith' in Hebrew, he said, is better translated as 'being faithful', rather than by the word 'faith'. He goes on to say further, that 'religion' for Jews is not a body of knowledge that could, for example, compete with science.  Religion, he said, is not a set of beliefs, rather it is a set of relationships.