Friday, October 16, 2009

Four ways to pass the peace without spreading the flu

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?"

10 comments:

it's margaret said...

But "The Peace" has actually been a kiss... truly. So, I am not so in favor of disembodying it...

So, we have put hand sanitizer in obvious canisters in the church and asked folks to use it. The children are 'ritually' washing their hands with sanitizer (what an OT concept) before and after class. We got purple sanitizer and they love it.

We discourage intinction because hands are much dirtier than lips. We are making Eucharistic ministers wipe their hands with handi-wipe sanitizers before communion. There is talk of dipping the purificator in vodka which is 180 proof and nothing can live in that! And asking folks that if they think they have a cold, to refrain from the cup because receiving in one kind.... etc.

That's kinda what we are up to in this neck of the woods. I'll tell you if it works!

Laura Toepfer said...

That's the thing I'm wondering: is there a way to embody the peace without a handshake or a hug? Maybe there isn't.

I LOVE the ritual sanitizing for Sunday School! What, no green sanitizer for ordinary time?

Keep me posted.

qoe said...

The one thing we have to watch out for is oversanitizing. Is this possible, you ask? The answer is a most emphatic YES. (I got this straight from a singing colleague who also runs an emergency room-- Always great to have singing buddies that are M.D.s--but you can query on the internet for more info on your own.).

The handsanitizing lotions are FABULOUS, says he, so fabulous that they get rid of the bad cooties as well as the GOOD ONES, those that help maintain your immune system.

He added, everyone dispenses this stuff, but they don't tell you how much, or rather HOW LITTLE to use, and so everyone uses great gobs of it. An eentsy bit goes a long way.

Then, he said, think about the consequences of all of that being washed off our hands, and into the drains and into the water supply and the bays and oceans...

Really, just a GOOD washing with soap and water (it is the rubbing that makes the wash effective) is as good as anything else, and you don't lose the good stuff that is on your hands. Here ends the lesson (we were rehearsing in a church).

So, there you go. After I found that out, I stopped getting hand sanitizer and just have a big rule about hand washing when we return from public places.

But, I like the idea of doing the Namaste greeting.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your posts - and thank you for letting me use this occasion to wonder aloud about something that has often troubled me before.

I remember thinking about the pros and cons of the common cup as early as the early 1980s, when AIDS first appeared on the scene. Current concerns about the flu remind me about that all over again.

On the one hand, I live in a modern world where I understand the germ theory of disease, and I know that contact can spread germs.

On the other hand, I also live in a symbolic world where I understand the importance of ritual, and I know that sacraments can save lives.

How can we show that we want to remain one body when we work so hard to avoid everyday forms of physical contact? How can we show that we care about each other when we work so hard to separate ourselves from anyone who might be ill?

I am not sure that anything can ever replace the human pleasure of sharing common touch and the symbolic power of sharing common food and drink.

Laura Toepfer said...

Yes, how can we keep the meaning of connection instead of reacting out of fear?

A few weeks ago, when I was the presider at the Eucharist, a woman shook my hand at the peace and then said, "You'll want to Purell your hands; I have a cold." Thanks for that, then.

Which is why I think it would be good for people to have a choice, such as Namaste. I think people already do have the choice at communion of sipping or intincting.

It may be rather than saying, "You will all bow to one another," instead to say, "If you don't want to share germs, here are some options." That way the people who want to hug or shake hands or kiss or whatever can still do so. What I would hate to see happen is for people to stay away from community for health reasons when we can come up with some creative ways to make this work for everyone.

Still pondering...thanks for all the comments.

qoe said...

Hope you don't mind a return chime.

But I have to second the thoughts of Anon, as well as add that there is the subtlest of ironies in this entire issue: it is precisely by reaching out and exposing ourselves the handshakes and hugs and kisses of others that we bolster our immune systems. Even a cold is the signal that your body is working to balance all that you have come in contact with to what your system can handle. It is when the system is overwhelmed and depleted --or compromised by other conditions -- when the average person might want to worry.

It is unfortunate that we are taught to fear in this way.

Slavoj Zizek has an interesting discussion on fear in his book entitled "Violence". The chapter where this discussion occurs is called "Fear Thy Neighbor As Thyself!" The perspective he offers on this is very interesting, though more toward the ethical and political end of the spectrum from where our discussion here lies.

However, the point he makes there is similar to what we experience with regard to modern epidemiology and the warnings of epidemic in our global society. We have had the H5N1 (avian influenza) warnings for years, and now the H1N1 (swine flu), which has reportedly, as a pandemic has taken 17 times more lives in half as many months as the former took in 7 years. We do tend in this country to be far more germphobic than other countries, but does this make us healthier? It is certain that over-sanitizing will NOT PROTECT US but rather EXPOSE US to more germs, not to mention harm the food chain.

I am not saying we should be offhand about these things, but I do think we can go too far in either direction, being hyper-germophobes on the one hand, or being terribly careless on the other. The middle road would be to have an awareness of the presence of health issues in your community, while maintaining a reasonable level of prevention within the normal pools of contact. Otherwise, the threat controls our actions. The promotion, by some sectors of the health profession, and by those institutions where many people gather, that continual use of hand sanitizer is the answer to our problems is quite simply irresponsible--but it is the salve for fear.

Which is only to reiterate [in too long a way--apologies], that I do not want to shy from touch anymore than Anon--we were put in the world as a multitude to be for one another as loving neighbors, and this is God's charge to us.

However, if forced by an outbreak of contagion in my town, I would rather exchange Namaste and receive bread alone than have my communion experience become the bread, the cup, the Peace and the Purell.

LKT said...

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?"

Anonymous said...

I understand the desire to maintain physical connection and it's always been my preference to shake hands and take the risk. The issue is when people with compromised immune systems (age, illness, chemo, etc.) don't have a chance to decline the risk, because someone has hugged them, or because the community rituals pressure them to participate. I think (being a good Anglican) that the middle way is to offer multiple ways to pass the Peace, with the clergy each week modeling the different methods. While it may be awkward at first, a community will quickly adapt and perhaps even enjoy the diversity of expression.

Anonymous said...

The Sign of Peace in the NO Mass is optional anyway. It would be so much nicer if priests simply omitted it.

http://wdtprs.com/blog/2009/01/a-sane-priest-in-indianapolis-the-sign-of-peace-is-optional/

LKT said...

I did not know that! Looking at the rubrics again in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, I note that it includes the wiggle word "may." As in people may greet one another in the name of the Lord. But I don't think that would be a very popular move!