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.

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