Greetings: Power & Praxis In Social Distancing

GREETINGS POWER AND PRAXIS IN SOCIAL DISTANCING

‘The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost…’ Galadriel’s voice, The Lord of The Rings, J R R Tolkein

And so the priest raised a hand and conferred a blessing, sometimes both hands were raised; the parent or guardian would say goodbye to their small child by bringing the palm of their hands to their mouth, bring that palm forward just a little and blow, to blow a kiss in the child’s direction; my grandmother would pretend to put her hand too close to the open fire and frown, blow her hand as she shakes it as if it is burnt. Such is the power of this type of symbolism.

From the small sample of the three actions of hand symbolism mentioned there is the conferment of a blessing, the issuing forth of love, and a warning instruction to be careful. Symbolism – we take it for granted but it is powerful as a symbol, but so much more. There is power there!

In the clearing, in ancient England the Druid stood next to the table, the altar, and there to one side was the cauldron. Opinions differ to its usage, but some believe it could have been used to burn fragrant herbs to be used as an offering. Smoke and a wonderful fragrance would fill the air and denote that this was a pure place, a special time, a liminal place, a ‘thin place’. Interestingly, the tribes of the First Nations of America would, at that time, be using their smudge sticks, ‘saging’, in a similar way. And, yes in Scotland similar practices would take place, except there it was (and still is) called saining. Great symbolic ideas seem to come alive, move and are adapted by many, and they gain from it. We gain from it.

Why concern ourselves with symbolism now?

As you know I do like to hug, or at more formal settings I like a handshake, or a combination of the two which is known as the pound hug, the man-hug, the dude hug or one-armed hug. None of which can be done today, and for some months to come, because of the coronavirus and the need for no physical contact.

‘We are symbols, and inhabit symbols.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, what do we do? The world is changed. How do we use different hand and other  symbolism and actions to greet others?

Well, over the past few weeks there have been a variety of new options for greetings. The elbow to elbow tap is one, and some of the friendliest of people would do that with their right elbow to another’s right below, and then left to left. Others would tap their right foot against another’s right foot, and then left to left. And some combined the two so it became a little, comical dance. None of which can be done today and for some months to come because of the coronavirus, and the need to keep some social distancing (which, here in the UK is 2 metres apart, at least).

So, what do we do?

Below, are some fascinating alternatives from around the world, from ancient cultures and new, full of symbolism and power. There are many which can be used and adapted, imaginatively, to greet other people in this non-tactile period and so confer respect and act as a greeting from a distance (unless we’re in ‘lockdown’ in which case we shouldn’t be meeting people)… but these suggested symbolic greetings can also be used when communicating by video links such as FaceTime. Time to change. Time to experiment.

’Symbols are the imaginative signposts of life.’ Margot Asquith

Hand over the heart. The Bellamy salute was used in America, especially in respect to the flag when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It meant extending and  lifting the right arm just above the horizontal. Some may now think of this as the salute by Nazis and right-wing extremists. Not so, until the rise of Nazism in the second world war. But, around 1942 the Bellamy salute was superseded by placing the right-hand palm on the left side of the chest and over the heart to show love and respect to the American flag and for which is stands. What a wonderful gesture, and a good gesture to others we meet (online) to do the same as an initial greeting as we speak words of greeting, too. A heartfelt gesture?

For some, a variation of this might be a double tap over the heart with an open palm, to denote greeting. A heartbeat, perhaps, denoting the blessing of life? I think a double tap with a closed fist is acceptable too.

Bowing or head-nod. How many times have you crossed a busy street with bags of shopping, whilst a car ddriver has stopped to let you across. You say ‘thankyou’ but it’s unlikely the driver will hear you, and so in all probability you do a slight nod of the head in the drivers direction. That visual  ‘thankyou’ can also be used as a greeting. As is the case in countries such as Japan though the nod may be a bow from the hip upwards. That may be too formal for many of us, but the slight, brief head nod as a greeting seems special enough to be used.

It is customary when meeting the Queen of Great Britian for women to curtsey and for men to do that slight head-nod as she passes by. If you’ve seen the Queen move along a line of dignitaries you will see a myriad of curtsies and head-nods like pistons in and engine. However, there is a story, allegedly true, that Dennis Skinner, an MP (then) and not one for giving to respecting the office of the monarch, was determined not to head-nod as she passed by. It is said that the Queen, who occasionally stops to talk to some of the line of dignitaries, and having spied Skinner in the line, deliberately stopped to speak to him in the quietest of voices. His immediate and reflex action was to move his head closer to the Queen’s to catch her words to give a reply. Yes, the Queen in that one brief moment gained a head-nod of respect from Skinner even without him knowing it. Allegedly.

Hand wave. In British Sing Language the typical greeting of ‘hello’ is a simple wave of the hand. With the elbow bent and the hand brought up to shoulder level, you simply wave your hand. I believe in American Sign Language the right hand is brought up to the side of the head and the action resembles a military salute. Perhaps done with less formality and covering a shorter distance before the salute ends.

’As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelite were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalakites were winning…. When Moses’ hands grew heavy…then Aaron and Hur held his hands up, one on each side’. Exodus 17:11-12 part, The Book

The ‘v’ sign. Popularised by the hippie movement of the 1960’s the ‘peace’ sign, which can be used in these weird times, consisted of making the letter ‘v’ with the index and middle fingers, the other digits brought together, and with the palm of the hand facing the recipient. Ofcourse, many will now that to do this sign with the back of the hand to the recipient is a grave insult. Odd that Winston Churchill, the UK’s wartime Prime Minister used it that way when addressing crowds of supporters and at rallying speeches throughout the country! Perhaps, intentional and directed at the enemy at the time?

The ‘vulcan’ salute is a novel one. One your right hand bring all your fingers together, thumb apart, and then separate the middle finger from the ring finger. You can say or mouth the words ‘Live long and prosper’, or even say that in the Vulcan language and then it would be, ‘dif-tor heh smusma’, but that may be taking things too far.

Used copiously by Leonard Nimoy who played the Vulcan known as Spock in Star Trek, and by many others since, its origin comes from ancient Hebrew. At a certain part in their ritual the Jewish Kohanim, the priest, would raise his right hand and make that sign. It resembles the Hebrew letter ‘shin’ which has three upward strokes and refers to the deity.

Double-handed heart. Cupping the fingers of the left hand to form the shape of a ‘c’, and doing the same cupping action with the right hand and bringing them together forms a heart shape. Maybe best used for those you know affectionately, rather then the CEO of your company during a teleconferencing session. To ‘add’ power to that symbolism the hand ‘heart’ can be moved several inches toward the recipient to show the act of giving.

‘I think that a symbolism is attached to particular images, becomes marked in the unconscious. To exorcise it, to rearrange it, to reshape it, to make it my own, involves unearthing it, describing it, deploying it in form, and then rearranging it [again].’ Sarah Charlesworth.

Namaste. This is one of my favorites and is used by many throughout the world and in the west. It’s simply bringing both the palms of your hands together, in front of your chest, usually with arms as close to horizontal as appropriate, coupled with the spoken word ‘namaste’ (pronounced nam-ass-stay), which means something like, ‘I bow to the divine within you’.

However, there are some symbolic actions of greetings that might not quite make assimilation into western thought. In one ancient Asian country, a ninth century cruel king had a black tongue. Monks, after he died, would poke out their tongues to greet people to show they were not the reincarnation of that callous black-tongued king, and that action of greeting passed onto the people, even today.

‘What I want to tell people is that you can mix the culture a little bit and it’s not always appropriation.’ Jain

I hope the abovementioned has given you a passion to take what is out there and adapt it appropriately to your need and sensitively depending on its origin. For thousands of years action and symbolism has passed from one tribe to another, one country to another, and each have shared their beliefs and actions, which , in turn, have ‘evolved’ over time. And, we are the better for it.  In the tough days ahead of temporary self-isolation and ‘lockdown’ because of the coronavirus we need a new ‘alphabet’ of symbolic greeting, and I do believe that societal journey, a remarkable one, has only just begun.

 

Ritual: Body Prayer: Getting Started

20190522 RITUAL BODY PRAYER GETTING STARTED

I am, as you know, fascinated by liturgy and ritual. I use ritual a lot, value it, and would encourage you to try it, too. Experiment. Adapt. Be playful.

Ritual is, for me, a powerful and physical action, an enacted metaphor that can aid us. Here’s an outline of what ritual or right action can do, an account of an intriguing event in Capel Curig in north Wales some time ago, and some examples of body-physical movements you might like to try in your ritual, prayer-times, meditation etc. Here’s an opportunity to add deep meaning to what we do.

There is power in words. With a word all that is visible and invisible was made by the Maker Unmade. With our words we can encourage someone to new heights, and yes, with an unkind word we can destroy.

There is, indeed power in words. But what of actions? The common maxim is: actions speak louder than words. This is true, too!

Orthopraxy is one of my favourite words. Orthopraxy is all about how someone acts. Right action as opposed to right belief. And, its actions, particularly regarding ritual action that I believe is most beneficial to us.

Orthopraxy in ritual actions can physically demonstrate our passion and intentionality to ourselves, to others, to the Source of All. Our actions can denote a request, a blessing, an intention, or declare adoration. They inform, invite or dismiss, and maybe reinforce our words.

I saw a photograph in the newspaper of a president. There was no caption. A caption was unnecessary. The picture showed that is was pouring with rain – the kind that would soak anyone within seconds. And, there was the president with his wife in a rainstorm. He carried the umbrella and ensured his wife was the one to remain dry. He got soaked. No caption or words were needed. The picture exuded love. Right action.

Perhaps, it’s right action at the right time. What is appropriate one moment, maybe not be so the next moment. Awareness is needed.

Sometime ago I wrote: A warm feeling enveloped me. Palpable. And not only an external feeling, but internal too, pervading my whole being. And then, as has happened albeit infrequently in this place in the past, I heard the Voice once again. Some will say that it’s only imagination, but I can only say, to me, it was and is, more, oh much more.

From an interrupted, shallow sleep I awoke early, and walked into the night, as if called by a Voice deep within. An elemental? The Awen, An ancestor? The Deity, An angel? The Bat kohl, my imagination?

There is a story in an ancient text of a major battle, the battle of Rephidim. It is a short account of an unprovoked attack against Moses’ people. Fighting ensued and lasted all day. While Moses raised both his arms aloft, perhaps to encourage his people or perhaps in supplication, it was noticed that his people got the advantage over their enemy. When his hands dropped, the opposition gained the upper hand in the battle. Moses raised his arms, and once again his people prevailed. But, what about when tiredness got the better of him? No one can hold their arms aloft for any great length of time, and before long Moses’ arms began to feel the strain. As his arms became tired and started to drop Hur and Aaron placed themselves either side of him, and gave his arms the support they needed. No other words needed. Right action.

Perhaps, in ritual, our right actions are akin to charged physical metaphors that have a far greater effect behind the Veil that we can yet imagine? Metaphors always relate to something other (or Other).

One night, about three years ago, I woke up from a shallow sleep and went for a walk to this place, and this is what I wrote:

The air was cold and damp, the darkness seemed to envelope me, the trees ‘closed in’, and all was quiet. Nothing stirred. Nothing at all. And with some trepidation, into a forest clearing I slowly strode. A fallen tree provided a seat, and I sat, and waited.

The air felt ‘electric’ as though something would happen, like a ‘silent storm’ approaching. And I waited. And shivered. Waited. And got damp. Waited. And then from within, or without, almost undetectable, a quiet, loving, voice was heard. The Voice.

Rituals remove us from the ordinary flow of life and place us in sacred space. It’s for that reason that some might, say, light a candle at the beginning of a service or at home, or at the beginning of a prayer or time of meditation. Right action. This is a significant action for it declares our moving out of the realm of ordinary space and time and into sacred space and time. Action within rituals create their ‘magic’ and have their power through the mysterious and mystical vocabulary of symbolic re-enactment. Symbolic action either ‘allows’ things to happen or puts us in the right frame of mind to ‘see’ them and appreciate them. At the end of the service, mediation or individual prayer-time the candle flame is usually extinguished and we return to physical space (although the astute will know there is no real dualistic division). Right action.

Slowly, unhurriedly, powerfully, the Voice said:

“As above, so below,
there are things you should know.”

And so, I mention,
with your hands at your side, walk humbly,
take seven half-steps forward, it’s a journey of intention.”

“And now, raise your hands in simple ‘surrender’,
and point both to Heaven, that domain of awesome splendour.”

“Widen your arms, and so scoop, and harvest
pure energy, pure ‘gold’, and be prepared to be feel blessed.”

“Draw in that power, by folding your arms like an ‘x’ on your chest,
and feel its benefits, its warmth; you’re at peace, at one, ‘at home’, at rest.”

“Then stretch forth your arms, and mould with your hands
as if a ball, that ‘globe-like’ power-blessing from the ouranic meadowlands.”

“With one foot leading, and with knees part bent,
sway back and forth, in preparation for that ‘goodness’ to be sent.”

“In your mind, name the loved-one, the recipient, the friend,
and in your heart, see them, imagine them, to that end.”

“‘Push’ with your hands, that power-blessing from you to them,
and sigh the sound of the ages, the ‘so be it’, the ‘amen’.”

“And then, your hands drop to your side,
power has gone out; but there is no lack,
for the power-blessing that went forth, also comes back,
in another way and at another time, and so you, too, are blessed.”

Having done everything as directed, I stood there in awe. The air was cold and yet I felt warm, the night so dark but in my mind’s eye it seemed to glow. The Voice had gone. The Voice? An elemental? The Awen, An ancestor? The Deity, An angel? The Bat kohl, my imagination?

Ofcourse, there is no right or wrong way to use ritualistic action. It’s intentionality that counts.

But, I would encourage you to incorporate and/or adapt physical action into any ritual you do. This can involve the whole body, as above, or part. It’s also enjoyable and may make the ritual, prayer or special time even more meaningful.

The following is an outline – consider it like a dictionary or vocabulary of hand-signs for ritual – to encourage you to use them, adapt them or to form your own. Here’s three:

Acceptance: In the early stage of any group or solo event I need to ‘open up’, to accept power from Beyond. And so, with one hand I form an ‘acceptance’ hand: My elbow is bent at right-angles and one hand is in front of my chest, maybe about 9 inches away from my chest. The palm of my hand is upright, and fingers and thumb gently parted. I ready to catch ‘it’. Accompanied by a few words asking for energy and power from Beyond, out loud and prayerfully, I move my hand towards my chest, so that the palm of my hand ends up against my chest. Power sought by that open hand, symbolically, then accepted, and then indwelling.

Aid someone: With a person’s name in mind, an area in need, or a request for the Source of All to aid a part of the world in need, I bring that hand away from my chest, but only just. I ensure the palm is, again, upright. My other hand forms a fist and lays on that open-palmed hand so that the fist-hand  lays on it (so that the veiny back on the hand is facing up). Then, saying out loud the request, I move both hands, still together, away from my body about a foot. It’s as though a gift is on a plate and both move towards the one needing aid. The prayer request is symbolically ‘delivered’.

Thankfulness: It seems right to give gratitude to the Great Giver. With your fingers together, touch your chin with the fingertips (of perhaps the longest finger or two) of one hand. Let them remain there for a second or two (or three), and then bring your hand down, slowly, to naturally arc through the air, to stop in front of your chest so that your arm is at right-angles. That’s being thankful.

The abovementioned is the start of a ‘ritual vocabulary’. These three are from the Dictionary of British Sign Language. But, there is no reason why you shouldn’t make your own. Please let me know how it works for you.