On Faith: The significance of a hand shakeLike pastors everywhere, I do it hundreds of times a year. I shake the hands of parishioners as they leave Church, wishing each a blessed day and week. It’s a gesture as much routine as it is taken for granted. Yet, it is also one that is at times significant beyond measure.
By: Father Michael Lyons, Pastor, Holy Spirit in Two Harbors and St. Mary's in Silver Bay, Lake County News Chronicle
Like pastors everywhere, I do it hundreds of times a year. I shake the hands of parishioners as they leave Church, wishing each a blessed day and week. It’s a gesture as much routine as it is taken for granted. Yet, it is also one that is at times significant beyond measure.
During her recent visit to Northern Ireland, Queen Elizabeth and Martin McGuinness, a Government Minister, shook hands. It was inconceivable that this could ever happen, since he was also a one-time leader of the IRA who had killed her cousin, Lord Mountbatten.
That handshake signaled the end of one period of difficult history and confirmed a peace process concluded on Good Friday. It also brought to light many stories of forgiveness and healing (that reveal the power of God at work in people’s lives).
Jo Berry tells the story of her father who was killed by an IRA bomb and her decision very soon afterwards to bring something positive out of the horror and to try to understand those who killed him (Tablet June 30, 2012).
For Jo Berry, the journey to forgiveness and healing began with one small step and the trust that life would bring her opportunities to heal and grow. Within two months of her father’s death, she randomly shared a taxi with someone whose brother had been in the IRA and had been killed by a British soldier.
“We should have been enemies,” she says “but instead we talked about a world where peace was possible and there were no enemies”. “As I left the taxi,” she continued, “I suddenly understood that this was one way I could contribute; I could build a bridge across the divide.” And she has! Because of others like her, the implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement continues.
Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel. We recall the words of Jesus: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23) While there are perhaps few parallels between Northern Ireland and America, what was true there is applicable here also.
In his recent book Our Divided Heart, E.J. Dionne suggests that on both sides of the political divide in America there is too much emphasis on individualism and not enough communitarianism. Our love of individualism and our reverence for community are not competing values, he writes, nor are they meant to be in conflict with one another. Instead, they are meant to animate the consciences of all Americans and keep us cooperating in crafting what is best for our country.
We need to return to a less negative and more civil tone in political campaigns as well as in our use of social media. Those on the political right need to realize that their responsibilities extend to the poor and the oppressed also. Those on the political left should include concerns about the sanctity of human life, freedom of religion not just worship, and the sanctity of marriage and family life as well.
Together as Christians, we have a duty to play our part in shaping the future of our country. We need to reach across both religious and political aisles and extend the hand of welcome and blessing to everyone. The hands we raise in worship are also the hands that build God’s kingdom in our world.