One thing I admire and even miss about the Catholic and Episcopalian churches is the regular ritual of Passing the Peace. It’s probably my favorite part of the service—up there with singing something I recognize and the notion that a cathedral (stained glass windows, arching gothic ceiling) simply forces you to look up from your normal gaze. Passing the Peace means you turn to those around you, sometimes hugging, or clasping hands, and you say, “Peace be with you,” and often you respond, “And also with you.” You look into someone else’s face and, like the Indian Namaste or the Muslim greeting As-salamu alaykum, as you move towards and/or receive another person, in the moment you recognize our similarity—we each want peace, or our god’s blessing, or the recognition of divinity in the other. It feels good to Pass the Peace and to receive it, and often it startles us out of our enclosed consciousness and asks us to cross over.
In this massive cathedral of St. Patrick’s, where, most likely, there were regulars, tourists, pilgrims, passersby, pagans—people who stepped forward to take communion or a priest’s blessing, those who sat quietly, or watched curiously, those enraptured, those in pain or need, perhaps even those in disdain—no matter whether you knew the Gloria or the Latin by heart, we were all enveloped in a few seconds of peace.
I thought about my own government’s shut-down, the rhetoric across the aisle. I thought about my conversation with two idealistic activists introducing their proposal to the United Nations regarding increasing the number of women at the table to negotiate for peace in warring countries. I thought about a family I know united in their loss of a dear brother who struggle to love one another.
Under the fractured light from the stained glass high above my head today, looking up and up, I longed for us all to Pass the Peace.