In which Ruth ponders hands at the Eucharist

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver time you get to know your little flock’s hands inside out. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you were to pop their hands through one of those fun-fair things where only parts of the body show, I would know whose hands were whose. I know who has a curled up pinky; who wears shell pink nailpolish and tries to capture the slippery wafer with an ever-ready thumb; who has callouses at the base of his fingers from manual work; who was Presbyterian and collects in between two fingers; who has arthritis and can’t straighten them; who wears a gold pinky ring; who has been colouring in… As a result I quite like hands. They tell a lot about a person. They tell you what a person does, how they live, what they do with their time, how their health is.

Yesterday ‘little Eleanor’ came up to the communion rail for her blessing. She used to put her hands out but now she looks at me very seriously. I made the sign of the cross on her pig-tailed head and said to her: “I bless you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And may Jesus be your best friend.” And then I added: “Can you say Amen?” She looked at me solemnly. Then she nodded her head. I laughed. Of course she can say it. Whether she chooses to is another matter!  I posted it on Facebook and her mum told me that when she went back to her corner she shared crisps with mum and ‘tall Eleanor’ but made them put their hands out to receive them. How glorious is that?

In my journal I have a poem called Real Presence. I don’t appear to have an author or reference from where it came so please forgive me if its yours (and do let me know).

Hands overlapping, right over left
or sometimes, left over right,
and occasionally, just one hand –
all held out in anticipation
waiting to receive
‘the Body of Christ…’

A farmer’s hands here –
scrubbed clean, yet stained;
the very earth with which he works ingrained,
so that it has become a part of him
‘…broken for you…’

And here his child,
not yet really understanding
yet hands held out –
a little sticky I suspect
from the sweetie hurriedly swallowed
so she could receive;
innocent hands – unblemished.
“…keep you in eternal life.’

A woman’s hands – the farmer’s wife,
mother of the child – and others –
hands rough from many washings,
yet still a hint of that ingrained dirt,
testifying to the shared task
of nurturing land and family.
These hands I know are gentle
yet strong – like the woman herself.
“The Body of Christ…’

Another farmer; rugged hands,
oil stained I think,
adding to the beauty of ingrained earth.
(Perhaps he had trouble with the car
on the way to church,
or with the tractor yesterday.)
‘…broken for you…’

Young, delicate hands now,
their bearer not yet adult,
but no longer a child.
Her eyes meet mine and she smiles
and raises her hands to meet the gift
‘…keep you in eternal life.’

One hand here,
the other supporting the tiny babe
sleeping peacefully – downy forehead
offered for the sign of the cross
“The Lord bless you and keep you.”
“The Body of Christ…’

These hands are old and gnarled,
misshapen, barely able to stretch out,
telling of long years lived
and pain endured,
yet open they do,
expressing love and longing
“…broken for you…’

Dusty hands draw my eyes to his face;
a cheeky grin – an adult body
with a child’s mind.
His hands were probably clean
when he left home –
but I know he collects pebbles
and no doubt his pockets are full of them.
And now, hands outstretched, he waits
‘…keep you in eternal life.”

And there are more – and more.
As I move along the row of waiting hands
I see another –
his hands pierced, his body broken –
and I know he is present.
‘The Body of Christ, broken for you
keep you in eternal life.”

Swine flu or side effects?

Son #2 has been on the Champix to give up smoking for 2 weeks now. His side effects have been worse than mine and he even had to take a couple of days off work last week. After that people in his office went off with Swine Flu and now a whole department has been quarantined. It was only yesterday when someone asked him what the side effects were that they discovered they were the same as the Swine Flu symptoms. He was told to phone his GP and it now seems that it was him that spread the Swine Flu. Oops.  And he didn’t sneeze once. Turns out you can have mild symptoms and still infect others.

The ABofC has sent us out scary warnings about sharing chalices and suggesting that people only receive in one kind (bread) and that the priest alone gets to have the chalice. It feels like a step back in time to pre-Vatican II days. I still reckon that silver and alcohol can get rid of most germs. But in light of my diseased son I am prepared to use an anti-bacterial hand-wash before communion as well as the Lavabo. Now don’t say I’m not good to you.

Is intinction safe?

I came across this from a study into the hygiene issues surrounding intinction (dipping the Body of Christ into the chalice as opposed to sipping from a shared cup):

“The findings revealed that bacteria are indeed transferred into the wine when a person’s fingertips are submerged, and these same microbes can then be absorbed onto the wafer of a subsequent participant, in a sponge-like fashion. Not surprisingly, some individuals in the study had small amounts of fecal and other potentially dangerous bacteria on their fingertips, and some of these were recovered from the chalice samplings.”

Another issue raised is that if you have people who are coeliac they may become ill from drinking wine that others have intincted in, because crumbs will have been dropped into the chalice.

It would appear that lips have far less germs on them than fingers. So kissing is better than shaking hands. That should make the Peace more interesting!