Every year my daughter’s English teacher asks his students where they think the self is located in the body. Boys mostly touch their heads and girls mostly touch their hearts, which tells us a lot about gender socialization. When he asked the question of this year’s class of high school juniors, my daughter touched her hands. She says that the self is defined by what we do, and we mostly use our hands for doing things in the world.
Most of our ways of greeting each other involve our hands. We wave, shake hands, bow with our hands pressed together in front of us. All of these methods are about showing a willingness to be vulnerable. We wave our hands to show that we’re not holding a weapon. We shake hands, giving another person the power to pull us close and potentially hurt us. We bow in a namaste to show that neither of our hands are engaged in something nefarious. If our selves are in our hands, our greetings indicate that we’re willing to expose those selves to another person’s intentions.
I’ve been thinking about this in the context of the eucharist, because I’ve been receiving some suggestions that we should each partake in the eucharist in our own homes, after I bless our individual presentations of bread and wine via Zoom. We’re not going to do this. The eucharist is, in part, about vulnerability. When we gather together at the altar to receive the bread and wine, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. Our hands are held open as we wait to receive the bread. Whether we intinct or sip from the chalice, we expose ourselves to each other’s germs. Being the body of Christ in this way is always a risk, and we can’t meet for communion in a way that mitigates the risk. Our vulnerabilities are not exposed over Zoom — if things get too intense, we can always turn it off. Our selves can remain protected, our hands metaphorically in the pockets or hidden behind the back of technology.
Fortunately, there are many other ways of worshipping God, and as Holy Week nears, a group of us are meeting to talk about the meaning of liturgy and plan our Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil services. I am so grateful that the community of St. Stephen’s can come together in this way. If the self is defined by what we do, worship will always be important to our sense of self. Differently liturgies speak to different parts of the self, and although the liturgies that expose our deepest vulnerabilities are inaccessible to us, there are other ways to worship that speak to our sense of separation, our spiritual hunger, our grief and loss, and our ongoing hope. Those, and many others, are the themes of our upcoming Holy Week, the themes that we will engage with as we learn to worship together at this time.