Season of the hearts

Along with the Lents and the Advents, we have discovered that sometime each fall we enter the liturgical “season of the flu.” It is no “ordinary time.” Its observance prompts many a discussion of  how we might decently and in order interact with one another in God’s house.

As I travel about in retirement I sense concern over how this season is best to be practiced during the “greeting time” when worshippers stand and spread germs by shaking hands. I was recently in a congregation where the pastor suggested folks stand, NOT shake hands, but offer verbal greetings only. Then I noted the same pastor personally shaking hands with every worshipper who exited through his door after the service, thus quite literally single handedly spreading the plague throughout the camp.

A suggestion. When my late wife, Susan, was dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, she maintained a strong faith in God and an abiding love for everyone she encountered. The disease eventually robbed her of the ability to speak, but not the will to communicate. In the months when she could still use her hands and arms, she would lift up her hands and form a heart. It was her way of signaling, “I love you.”

Following Susan’s example, in the church I served before retirement, we greeted each other Sunday mornings by forming a heart with our hands. It was quite a sight to see from the lectern. Everyone who was able stood, and even those who could not stand, turned to their neighbors and offered the sign of the heart. When people came out my door following the service, we formed a heart instead of shaking hands. At Susan’s funeral my daughter, Katherine, led the congregation in forming a heart and lifting it up to her mom. It became our liturgical custom appropriate to the season.

Put your hands in front of your face. Put your thumbs together and then put your fingertips together above your thumbs. Now lower your thumbs and your fingertips and you will see that you have made a heart.  In this “season of the flu” making a heart with your hands is a faithful way for a worshipping fellowship to say to each other, “I love you and I want you to be healthy.”


John Galloway is an honorably retired member of Philadelphia Presbytery residing in Villanova, Pa.


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