When was the last time you exchanged a sign of peace with someone else? Signs of peace can come in many varieties. They can be a simple handshake, a well wish, a pat on the back, or something more formalized as in church. In the catholic tradition the “Sign of Peace” immediately follows the “Our Father” and is followed by the “Lamb of God.” These are prayers surrounding the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The priest offers a sign of peace to the congregation and then invites us to do the same with each other. Oftentimes in the beginning of mass there is an opportunity for people to exchange pleasantries as well.
I think that these practices are important in grounding ourselves in some shared humanity. In a world where the bottom line gets the last say, it seems like church should be one of those places where people feel free to be nice to each other without reservation. However, sometimes even this simple practice is withheld by some. It is understandable that people will not shake hands with another if they are sick and it’s flu season, but there are parishoners that will under no circumstances shake hands with another.
I wonder if they think that they are too good to do this or if they are not good enough. Maybe they have fear of germs, I am not sure. One thing I am sure about is that it is good for humanity to have this kind of human contact. Studies have shown that babies will not develop properly without enough touch and affection. On a smaller scale, the lack of contact and responsibility for one another has caused us to lose some of our humanity.
Lex orandi is a Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox belief that “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” If our signs of peace are examples of prayer, then these prayers will turn into our beliefs. In psychology, these constructs are known as schema. They effect how we interpret the world. These beliefs or schema will determine our answers to questions such as “Do we look at it as it being dangerous or safe?” and also “Are people inherently good or evil?” Simply put, if we practice those habits that are positive and community building, we can change our beliefs into the same. The outcome is a positive one for not only you, but has a ripple effect for the rest of the people you interact with throughout the day.
In simple ways, I have experienced this. Recently, I moved to Charleston, South Carolina. This city got voted the kindest city in the south. I am not surprised by this. People rarely honk their horns at you, they greet you without being prompted to do so, and they smile more that what I would consider usual. I am originally from New York and while the people can be kind there as well (they have their own way of doing it), my blood pressure seems a bit lower here in Charleston.
I am hoping other places can adopt these practices of southern hospitality or at the least shake my hands the next time I see them at church.