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Is it wrong that one of my worst traditions in the church is the passing of the peace? That moment when your preacher invites you to turn to the person next you and shake their hands? A lot of the churches I have attended take it one step further and hug and kiss each other – we are a community of faith, so it makes sense that we would love each other with a hug and/or a kiss like we do our families and friends – but, when I hear those words, ‘turn to the person next you…’ a little part of me shrivels up in terror.

It’s not that I don’t like you, or her, or him, it’s not that I don’t like people,  in fact I understand the reasoning behind greeting/loving those in our community, but I like my body space to remain clear and having someone step into it is a bit of a phobia of mine (I mean hug – ugh! same right?) Don’t get me wrong I am affectionate, but with a few people, not all people … I can love you without having to make physical contact with you. The fact that I am short means I get garroted in the throat by enthusiastic arms fairly often too so hugging strangers is detrimental to my health. Choke and splutter!

Now, at Seminary one of my favourite parts of the day, so far, is the morning chapel service, when we all get together as a community and worship and sing (oh my the singing is magnificent – the listening thereof I mean) and it’s a joyous, special, spiritual moment, followed by, yes, you guessed it hugging, lots of hugging. I am guessing I look a little like a deer in the headlights as I smile in terror and prepare to be … hugged/garotted! O woe is me! I know, there are worse things in life, although at the time I find it difficult to think what those things might be.

So this past week I am sitting with my friend in chapel and we get to the pass the peace moment and I lean across and say to her in a whisper, ‘this is my worst’. She of course looks at me like I am loopy and prepares to engage the ‘Pentecostal A-frame’. (Picture two people leaning towards each other, linking arms with an ocean of space between their bodies.) I suppose this phrase means there are others who feel the same way I do.  Anyways, I get through another pass the peace moment and sit down with a heave ho sigh of relief!! I am alive. I made it, the contact didn’t turn me into a pillar of salt – hallelujah!

Not 20 minutes later my dear friend Dean sends me a message … it reads only these words:

God speaks to us all a little differently, hoping we’ll tell each other …

Chuckle?!? I laughed like a drain… ‘You mean God, standing in an isolated circle with a sign on my forehead saying back off, I have a moat around my person is not acceptable? You mean we need to get close enough to each other to share YOU?’

Now I know that taking that phrase literally in this context is not what’s its all about, but hugging and allowing your guard to come down I think is imperative to fostering healthy, close communities. I know we don’t need to hug to foster that, but for some people, that touch is important and for them physical contact helps them feel the love of God… and if I can get over myself, it might actually be nice – but don’t hold your breath.

I have taken myself in hand (given myself a conciliatory shoulder tap, I cope well with shoulder affection) and gotten myself ready to be … hugged … and loved in order that I might be able to hug and love back … bringing down the walls I think was Gods message to me and, as I am a blissphilly obedient servant … I am I promise, I am going to take the message to heart and get ready for some peaceful loving!

Say it with me now peeps – THE PEACE OF THE LORD BE WITH YOU – bring it in, let’s have a hug!