On my last day of work before the holiday, a colleague sat at a meeting trying not to cough on those of us at the table with him. He apologized in advance if any of us end up sick on Christmas, which everyone else celebrates. He’s Jewish, married to a Christian, and his family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah. His children were sick for part of Hanukkah, and it looks now as if he and his wife will be sick on Christmas.
I shifted my chair a little and laughed nervously. “I’ve only had one cold in the nine years since I had cancer because the nursing staff taught me to wash my hands fanatically during chemo.”
He smiled and shifted his chair back from the table a little.
“Hey,” I said, “I even use that antibacterial lotion at church after the passing of the peace.”
Another colleague, also Christian but from another denomination, asked, “What’s the passing of the peace?”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise but then realized that the evangelical church of my childhood didn’t engage in this ritual either. “It’s a point in the service when you shake hands with others in the congregation and say, ‘Peace be with you,’ and they answer, ‘And with you.’ Some people in our congregation don’t even shake hands during cold and flu season,” I explained. “I do, but then I use hand sanitizer because the nurses taught me to do that during chemo.”
“Wow,” he said, “then you don’t even want to know how my church does communion.”
“How’s that?” I asked, fascinated as always by the traditions of others. “Do you use a common cup?” He nodded. “But doesn’t the priest wipe off the chalice between congregants?”
He shook his head. “And it’s not a chalice. It’s the same spoon.”
“Hmmm,” I said, tilting my head to think about that.
We went back to work, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation in the past 24 hours. Yesterday evening one of my Facebook friends vented about gun control. Though my daughter tells me it’s useless to discuss politics on social media, I responded, since my friend and I respect each other and sometimes come to understand each other better when we tell the stories that led us to have the views we hold. But one of his friends went on a tirade about how we wouldn’t have such a violent world if we went back to having school prayer.
Many of my friends who are far more reasonable than this person agree with him. But after 30 years in the classroom, I understand, in a way that many of my friends do not, what that would ask of children who are not Christian. I think particularly of two girls on the debate team I coached who were Muslim. Debate meets went on for hours, and we always scheduled these two girls around their evening prayer time. Very quietly, they would go to a room that we had set aside for them and pray as their faith demanded. They made no one uncomfortable. They simply observed the tenets of their own faith quietly, without fuss or show.
In my entire life, I have not known a single Christian who is so devoted to prayer as were these two young women. One of them went on to become a teacher, a woman who patiently explained why she wore a head covering and who, after September 11, explained endlessly that not all Muslims are terrorists.
And if we were in the minority, I wonder how we would feel if we were suddenly asked to participate in the rituals of someone else’s faith.
So in this season when our world is so much in need of a shared peace that we cannot pass to one another with a few words and a handshake, I wonder how we can find a way to share respectfully the lenses through which we are able to see God—to live in peace with one another in spite of our differences.
I see God through the lens of that babe in the manger who grew into a man who urged conscience and compassion. He has been and is my salvation, over and over again, as I try to live up to the example Christ set for me. And when I read the stories in the Gospels in search of truth for my own life, I read again and again of how he shared meals and conversations with people that others dismissed.
And I wonder what our world would be like if each of us could do the same—not to sit in judgment but to share the good news of our own lives with one another in search of a shared peace.
So peace be with you. And now tell me your stories of passing on peace to others.