One of the beautiful aspects of following Jesus on the Anglican way is that we walk this path alongside millions of Christians throughout the entire world. The Anglican Communion consists of over 80 million Christians worldwide, which makes it the third-largest body of Christians. We have such a tremendously rich resource in the global Anglican Communion! If we have “ears to hear,” our brothers and sisters of various cultures and backgrounds can confront our cultural blindspots and reveal the glory of our Lord and Savior in ways we can’t see him by ourselves.
The new reality of COVID-19 has made our standard Western form of greeting, the handshake, a health liability. This creates an anxious tension within the liturgy, as we are commanded to express our communion with each other through passing the peace. Since God made us as embodied persons, what we do with our bodies is incredibly important. Without shaking hands, how can we express that we are at peace with each other? Our internal person demands some outward expression of peace with our neighbor. We need a ritual.
Lord willing, we’ll all be meeting together in person again sooner than later. A solid plan will keep the passing of the peace from becoming “the passing of anxious glances.”
Maybe we can take this moment to learn from the global Anglican communion. Perhaps they could teach us a new bodily expression of the peace that, while not having the health liabilities of the handshake, could also have the added benefit of increasing our unity with Anglicans across the globe.
So why not wai?
As a young man, I taught English in Bangkok Thailand for about a year before beginning my university studies. One of the first cultural skills I learned was the Thai greeting called the wai (pronounced “why”). The simplicity and respectful beauty of the wai makes it perfect for passing the peace. I fell in love with the wai at first sight.
How to wai? In Thai culture, the wai can be a bit more complicated than I am about to explain. But for our purposes, this short introduction and method will suffice. If you are interested in learning more, please do! This is just wai 101.
First, look at the person you are greeting. Since we are passing the peace, we will use the greeting, “Peace be with you.” As you say the greeting, relax your arms, press your hands together in front of your chest with your fingers pointing upward.
Look down as you bow your head so that your nose almost touches your index fingers. (You might normally touch your nose, but it’s recommended by health experts to avoid touching the face at this time.)
As you come up from the bow, reestablish eye contact and smile. The person upon seeing you begin to bow will reciprocate with the same action, responding, “And with your spirit.”
And there you have it! A completely hygienic, respectful, beautiful, and Anglican way to embody the passing of the peace. Thank you, Thai people!
And please remember our Thai brothers and sisters in your prayers.
Fr. Kurt Hein is the rector of Light of Christ Anglican Church in Georgetown, TX. Previously he served as a hospice chaplain. He’s been engaged in gospel mission throughout the world, including Honduras, Thailand, and Ukraine. But now God has called Kurt to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments back home in Texas. Additionally, Kurt loves bass guitar, beaches, BBQ, beer, his beautiful bride, and two boys.