Kiss, hug or handshake – How do people in your church pass the peace of Christ? Nyambura Githaiga admits to being an awkward hugger.
I’m an awkward hugger. I like hugs. Ah, to be held tightly by someone you love, for a moment too long. What’s not to like? Yet I’m the same one who will lean well forward to triangulate the hug, shoulders touching, giving the semblance of a hug but with enough space between us for a large, happy dog to pass through.
I grew up in a handshaking culture. We shook hands in church, in school, with relatives and strangers. The handshakes were different. Some were formal – quick grip and let go. Others were more friendly, involving endless shaking of hands for the first few minutes of the conversations. There were of course the handshakes when we were teenagers, ranging from very cool to very creepy.
Over time, though, hugs crept in. With family and relatives, it was the brief don’t-blink-you’ll-miss-it triangular hug. In church it was the side-by-side keep-your-distance-my-body-is-the-temple-of-the-Holy-spirit kind of hug. But with friends it was the genuine good-to-see-you-not-embarrassed-to-hold-you hug.
Then I moved away to live amongst other cultures. And in came the kissers. Is it two or is it three? ("NONE!" I scream in my head.) Starting left, or right? For an awkward hugger, kissing is alarming. In my bid to adapt, I tried to go with the flow but often got confused. Brushing lips with one of the church elders one fateful Sunday morning, I was ready for the rapture.
I’ve now learned to approach kissers very slowly, make as little movement as possible and let them initiate the direction and number. In my awkwardness, this means I don’t even kiss any cheek for fear I might once again be calling for the rapture forthwith. I’m always amazed at how relaxed the kissers are, though, as they move from cheek to cheek - they are laughing, talking, some even shaking hands. Meanwhile, I’m standing very still, holding my breath and hoping for a swift and uneventful interaction.
I’ve also encountered the hug kissers. Those ones are sneaky. They approach as huggers and then plant one or maybe two kisses as they complete a one or two-sided hug. It’s just too much for me. I back away as soon as I politely can, heart rate elevated, as I take a deep breath, feeling relieved to have survived.
With all the different greeters out there, I’m never sure what to do. I’ve given awkward hugs that were unwanted. Insisted on a handshake when a hug was offered. Pulled back from a 3-cheek kisser after 2 cheeks. But now—thank God for small mercies—pandemic masks are the magic that keeps the kissers at bay!
“The peace of the Lord be with you…and also with you,” we say on Sunday mornings before shaking hands (preferably) with those around us. Greetings are a celebration of life, love, friendship. But as I walk into my church on Sundays, bracing for the kissers, I thank God for His peace that passes all understanding.
Nyambura is a cultural explorer who enjoys learning and growing in appreciation of the beautiful diversity of God's people and all He created.