A set of reflections by, Kristin, Karen, and Doug, on the practice of greeting one another with a blessing of peace. The audio recordings are here in sequence, and printed text to follow .
Karen Bowles :
The Passing of the Peace is a part of liturgy that has ancient roots. Jesus said ‘Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.’ And we say these words to one another just as Jesus said them to his followers, and because Jesus said them to his followers. And for each of us these words and this action of turning to one another facing one another and looking one another in the eyes with the accompanying clasping of hands can be a confirmation, of community, of solidarity, of reconciliation. But for me, it can be all these things, but mostly it is of connection. My father used to say the eyes are the windows of the soul. How many times have you in your life and your interactions with another, recognized in a moment of a shared glance, seen hurt or joy or passion or sometimes even indifference or dislike? It is impossible in sharing the passing of the peace not to give a glimmer of the state of your own soul and receive a glimpse of the state of another’s. And this can be uncomfortable because we are all good at keeping one another at a distance. When we greet one another in a social situation outside of church we can allow our eyes to slide over the other, to not really meet another’s eyes, to pay homage to social niceties with a handshake and then move on to prater of the price of gas or the latest sports scores.
But when we meet in church and offer one another the peace of Christ, we are connecting. Full stop. We are closing the distance between us with that which is quantifiable, in scientific terms, at a molecular level, and in spiritual terms, at a level of intimacy that connects us to the peace Jesus carried and offered and the peace we each have to both offer and receive. It is akin to the blessing of Namaste – a word in Sanskrit that means ‘the divine in me recognizes the divine in you.’ In John O’Donohue’s words we heard this blessing described as ‘a garment of spirit that links each life to everything else.’ And this connection becomes not only the passing of blessing but becoming a blessing. Becoming peace. And so it also represents opportunity for a wider, deeper peace beyond the individual interaction. As Thomas Merton said – ‘there is in all visible things – a hidden wholeness’. The energy created by offering a blessing to one another moves out beyond us and affects the actions and reactions of those around us.
This passing of the peace of Christ may not be comfortable for you on every Sunday. It is sometimes not comfortable for me either but perhaps that is a part of its blessing. O’Donohue says that the beauty of blessing of this passing of the peace is that it can ‘affect what unfolds.’ Through becoming even momentarily aware of this ‘garment of spirit that connects all,’ you may touch something that you would like to hold on to – that affects you – you may see something that changes the way you tackle the next day or the next hour or the next week, you may recognize something in yourself that needs work or that is affirmed, you may see something in the other that causes you to open up or to for a time, shut down, but no matter what you see in that moment of connection – you will have connected. There is ‘no distance in spiritual space.’
This action we do by rote and these words we say to one another is an invitation to recognize the connection between each and among all. And through this rote action and these words, we connect on a Sunday morning to the peace Jesus offered us and the peace he left with us. May we each become a blessing upon the earth, in part, by offering our blessing to one another on Sunday mornings.
‘Peace be With You. (And Also With You) Doug Norris
From back almost before we can even keep track, when Christians gathered, in homes, and halls and then in the first churches, there was a clarity about one piece of business. These groups were a living witness to the prospect of reconciliation.
They came together, Jews and Greeks, men and women, slaves and the free, rich and poor, across lines that were thought to be barriers, and they understood that to be in Christ was to be rejoined. It is is perhaps the original genius of the Jesus movement and the centre of the work of the Apostle Paul.
But they understood that it could be lost, or forgotten, and so in every gathering they paused and ‘passed’ to one another the greeting of peace. They understood that they could go no further in song or prayer or teaching if they had not testified to this deeper narrative first – whatever the divisions that lived in between them, they were being rejoined. It was the dream of God. Peace be with you…
John O’Donohue (priest, writer) saw something – in the space between us… to bless the space between us. We are, he saw, a massive collections of molecules, energy in motion and we are a continuity, not a discontinuity.
Two stories – a man, a difficult man, at Montreal City Mission – held out hand for a coin – at that moment, pure possibility – but, spit in the hand. Outside store, a woman falling, cried out, cut into my heart, a shared pain. What is this that moves between us? The space between us is, to borrow the words of Kahlil Gibran, ‘a moving sea between the shores of our souls… ‘ not a nothingness, but a set of lines that can be beautiful or can be toxic.
It may be a kind of naiivete for us to think that this ritual act we do here is actually bringing about reconciliation. It is likely not. Now, perhaps at some moment you will actually be seated near someone with whom you are at odds and your animosity is affecting people and when you turn to them and say ‘peace be with you’ something will shift, and this will be a grace, but mostly you are probably sitting with or near people you like and so the greeting of peace is simply reaffirming a peace that already exists between you. This is still beautiful and worth doing.
So what we are doing is perhaps this – rehearsing an ideal, practising a move, that might one day simply become the default move we make. I am saying to someome I know well and who has no doubt as to my goodwill ‘peace be with you’ and at the same time I am expressing a longing that the people from whom I am divided may hear it as well. And in this way we will be a living reverberation of our ancestors in Jesus, who saw the lines fall away.
In our prayer , we’ll sing, to our friends but especially to our foes : The peace of the earth be with you…