Our lives have all kinds of rituals that we practice without ever thinking twice about them. Although mainly a male ritual, the handshake is a good example. Before you read on, think about what a handshake means for you now, if it means anything. For most people it is a “greeting ritual” that is an expected move. At some times it means  more than that. For instance, here in Nobleford the council still practices a handshake that shows solidarity and unity despite differences. It used to be that an Elder shook the pastor’s hand before and after the service, and I vividly remember the time when I was a teen when an Elder refused to shake the pastor’s hand after the service! Turns out the pastors had asked some ladies to sing in the service and had not properly informed the Elders. The ladies happened to be of African decent… but I don’t know if that had bearing. It was a time when solo’s were unheard of as well, so there may have been multiple issues. But the lack of a handshake was a “loud” skipping of a ritual.

Some areas, such has Europe, have the “kissing greeting.”  If you’ve visited family in Holland, you might have run into someone extending their cheeks to you expecting the ritual peck on each side, creating a awkward moment because you don’t know the ritual, and such close contact is odd to us North Americans. Again, its just a a ritual.

“A handshake is a short ritual in which two people grasp one of each other’s like hands, in most cases accompanied by a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands.” – Wikipedia

The history and origin of handshakes is what I find interesting and also once I learned it, I began to see that as ritual gesture it’s time is well past the need for it’s original use. Wikipedia says “handshaking was practiced in ancient Greece as far back as the 5th century BC… The handshake is thought by some to have originated as a gesture of peace by demonstrating that the hand holds no weapon.” I have read other sources that stated the same thing, that it was a military ritual, done using what was expected to be the weapon hand, to show no weapon was in one’s hand and thus no harm was intended. Over time the meaning has expanded. But what I want to emphasize is that the meaning is important, not the ritual. The meaning can be conveyed by an adapted or totally new ritual. So too with many of our church rituals, as I’ve been pointing out. The important thing is the meaning, and that people ‘get’ it and are flexible in the expression of the ritual, even refreshing them creatively from time to time to refresh their meaning.

In many areas, for various reasons, handshakes are no longer a practice. The church I served in Iowa and you here are still big on handshakes, but many councils and churches no longer have it as a ritual. They have found other ritual ways of expressing the same meaning. See, it’s not the the handshake itself that is important, but the message it sends. And that message can be delivered with a different ritual. A wave, meaningful eye-contact, words, a tap on the side of the shoulder, a “high five” or a fist or elbow bump are just a few alternatives.

Try to start watching your own life, and start noticing all those rituals we practice. It can be surprising. Try notice too which ones you are strongly “attached to”and which you find annoying.