I went to a christening recently. I hadn’t been inside a cathedral for years and I’d forgotten there’s a full service as well as the baby-wetting sideshow.
As the bishop was doing his thing it came to my favourite part of the service growing up. The bit I’d completely forgotten about. The one where we are asked to turn to one another and offer the people nearest to us a sign of peace. Then we actually say to one another “peace be with you”. I had no idea why I loved it so very much as a kid. Possibly the idea of being legitimately able to talk in church without incurring the wrath of the strict Irish priest-or much scarier still the particular brand of wrath exclusively handed out by a contingent commonly known as the hardcore Irish Catholic gran. Heaven deliver and preserve us all from publicly shaming an Irish grandmammy -and coming between her and her Sunday worship I’m telling you. Cos if you do then you’d better be a praying man-and a far braver man than I…
It’s not just the chatting though. It’s the actual fact of it I think. Turning to a person you may never have met and telling them you wish them peace. Because peace is such a lovely state of being, isn’t it? And though I know we can’t physically give it to each other, we can nevertheless offer the wish. I’m sure a lot was lost in translation between the church switching from services in Latin to conducting them in English but I think they were bang on with the terminology here “offering a sign” not forcing, not insisting, not demanding. Just offering. “I wish you peace, I’m pretty sure it’s here for you if you want it. No prob’s if you don’t. No fuss. No bother”
Imagine if we lived in a world where we could all stop each other in the street, in the supermarket, at a bus stop. Where we could just all lightly offer each other a sign of peace whilst we waited in queues. I can’t help but think the world would be a much less lonely place for some. Because some people need that feeling of peace very badly indeed.
I didn’t know anyone else at this Christening. It was in a town I’d never been to before either. This would have been impossible a few short years ago. Back when I was frail. Frightened. Back when I was the person I fought so hard to leave behind. So very hard. The one who was desperately trying so hard to navigate the world after being away from people for so long . Who constantly wanted to run away from wherever she was. To a place that felt more manageable and safe. A place hundreds of miles away from where my life is now.
To overcome these feelings of chronic fear and uncertainty, is to live a life full of miracles. Nowadays, when I find myself holding conversations, laughing and sharing a moment with a group of strangers, I kind of step outside of myself and I feel so proud that I can do it. That I can physically stand. That I can look a person in the eye and talk to them. That I am confident enough in myself and in the world to laugh and joke and just enjoy having this moment with them. Then my automatic reflex is to feel silly for feeling proud of myself. A woman my age probably shouldn’t be bursting with pride that she can handle a situation on her own without her mum having to literally hold her hand throughout it. But I override this feeling of silliness and I remain proud. I offer myself a sign of the peace I have once again managed to find in this situation, despite feeling like it still eludes and defeats me so much of the time.
I liked this offering of peace malarkey very much. So much so I decided I was going to start offering people peace silently in my day-to-day tasks. Offering them the same congratulations I now offer myself when I do something that was impossible a few weeks, months, years back. That I would silently give them a little of what I am finally, finally able to begin offering myself. Support, stability…dare I say love? Yes, probably a bit of that too. Everything that peace represents or feels like; solidity. Certainty. Ease. Comfort. A weird thing happened when I tried to do it though. I found that I love people so much these days that I was already unwittingly doing it anyway. It’s probably why I hug everyone I meet-or hold their hand whilst talking to them, (a trait generally unacceptable in anyone over the age of 9, yet I do it anyway flagrantly, shamelessly) because I can’t help it.
This week I was talking to a young man about his career options at an event I attended. At the end of our chat he smiled the most beautiful smile and said to me very quietly “thank you Carrie, Jesus loves you”. And it was such a lovely thing to hear. Just that offering of love. Just there if you want it. No prob’s if you don’t. No fuss. No bother. It made me realise we do all offer each other love and peace so much of the time, that it really is our default setting. That all love given does in fact return. That we are all loved. We are never alone. Regardless of what shape or form our beliefs may take.
At a baptism or a bus stop. May we all feel loved beyond a capacity to comprehend. May your god go with you. May we all find peace. Because if we can find that place of real peace, we don’t really need much else in life-yet the stuff we used to want to compensate for the lack of peace, the people, the places, the possessions. they seem to find us anyway.