I just got my flu shot this morning (thank you, Kaiser!) and here's hoping the flu season is not as bad as I fear it might be.
There are lots of suggestions out there for changing rituals during flu season: nodding or bowing to one another, using an alcohol gauze to wipe the common cup or using intinction--dipping the bread--instead of drinking from the cup.
I have been thinking about this a bit and how hard it would be for me to not shake hands or hug people during the peace in part because I'm not sure what to do with my body. I wonder if some choreography would help to make the passing of the peace seem more deliberate and intentional. Here are four thoughts I've come up with.
1. Use sign language What about using the ASL sign for peace? It's a very satisfying movement, kind of like a handshake with yourself. Plus you really are saying "Peace." If you want to get fancy, you can add "with you," but folks may need a little practice.
2. Use another gesture that indicates peace. There's "namaste," for example, also a bit more satisfying and gestural than just a nod, that means "I bow to you," which seems lovely to me. It's very simple, easy for any age. Assuming we can get past the concern that it's unChristian, it seems like another good way to honor one another with a sign of peace that doesn't involve sharing a lot of germs. Plus, apparently, you can do it behind your back to the people in the pew behind you. I sure can't, but maybe you can.
There may be gestures from other languages that indicate that level of respect. Certainly I can think of a lot of disrespectful gestures. I think it would be wonderful to add more body language that indicates our care for one another and get that ingrained in our system.
3. Sing the peace One thing we did at our former parish was to sing during the peace. The one we sang was "La paz este con nosotros," which might be in Wonder, Love and Praise (I don't have one here), and was accompanied by maracas and all sorts of wonderful joyous percussion. It limited the time for the peace, but kept it very upbeat and celebratory. Why not use that and have people bow or reverence one another in some way?
Another, more low key song (which I know is in WLP) is "Peace before us." I could see using that, just one verse, with the ASL sign for peace, maybe singing it through twice.
4. Create a special phrase I remember visiting a Greek Orthodox church where we were instructed at the peace to turn to the people around us and say...I wish I could remember now. It was during Advent, though, and it was seasonal. I can imagine doing something like that, where we turn to one another on All Saints Sunday and say, "You are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses." On the other hand, that may sound vaguely like the preface to "You're under arrest!"
The point to all this being, I think people need something very concrete and specific to do at the peace. Perhaps a passing of the Purell? Combine the ideas listed above? What other things do you suggest?
Update, January 2013: People are finding this post again with the current flu epidemic, and as I re-read it and read the comments, I think we need to distinguish between embodiment, connection, and touch.
The most body-aware priest I know, a former professional dancer, works in an environment with a lot of elders where passing the flu is a real issue; as a culture, they have taken up the Namaste gesture at the peace. I think it is a mistake to say that if we no longer hug, kiss, or shake hands, we are disembodying worship. But I also think it's important that we keep worship in a physical, embodied form with rituals that convey love, warmth, and connection. The deep question is not "how do we not spread the flu?" but "how do we show our love through our actions and gestures?"