Each time we, as a Christian community, gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we have a tradition of passing the peace. How we pass that peace can be summed up in a thread started by a friend of mine of Facebook: “Informal poll for Episcopalians (or anyone who worships in a “liturgical church”): When passing the peace, are you a hand shaker or a hugger?”
With over fifty comments on the post, it is safe to say that we are all a little divided on it and many have strong opinions. I know people who will only attend services using the Book of Common Prayer, the older prayer book, so that they do not have to even think about touching anyone. I know people who have it as their mission to hug every single person in the building before they will conclude that they have sufficiently passed peace. My own response? Well, if I know you well, I’ll give you a hug. If I’ve only just met you or I don’t know you very well, it is a hand shake.
But what about if that has to change and you can’t shake hands for some reason and you do not want to hug? Then what?
I spent July and August in El Salvador with a group of youth leaders from Saskatchewan. We were visiting a PWRDF partner there, and spent the majority of our time in a small, isolated, rural community in the highlands close to the border with Honduras. While I am always really careful about ensuring I have all of my travel vaccinations before I go anywhere, there are some things you cannot plan for and cannot do anything to prevent.
Shortly before leaving to return home, I had a bit of a fever and felt achy all over. The local doctor looked me over and decided that I didn’t need to worry about anything with regards to flying, and to visit a doctor at home if anything changed after I arrived home. For some time, nothing changed. However a few weeks after returning home I started to get really achy joints: toes, ankles, knees, hips, elbows, and fingers. Not all at once, but definitely a lot of them for a lot of the time.
After a series of blood tests (and a whole lot of blood removed from my body), we have determined that I got the chikungunya virus when I was in El Salvador. It is transmitted by mosquitoes, which is interesting since I rarely get bitten by mosquitoes. It won’t cause any permanent damage and the joint pain will subside over time – and indeed it already has a lot: walking is no longer extremely painful and I have been able to type these words – but I will be dealing with joint pain off and on for a while longer still.
What does this have to do with passing the peace, you might ask? Simply this: my hands and feet remain the most affected parts of my body. I have difficulty holding our heavy hymn books some mornings in chapel. It also means that when well-meaning people give me a nice, firm handshake of peace, my hand aches for hours afterwards.
How does one pass peace when a handshake isn’t a viable option? I have tried a number of different things, most recently putting my hands together in prayer position and slightly bowing to people when I pass the peace of God. More often than not, however, this becomes awkward for both myself and the other person. So what is one to do? While for me, the pain will soon go away, I am mindful that is not the reality for many.