The Hand Gel Prayer
The last few weeks have seen an explosion in the number of people regularly using alcohol hand gel, so much so that Boots were reporting a national shortage of everything but the most basic 250ml bottles when I needed one before the cycle ride. No where has more comment been passed on the craze than in churches, where bottles are now routinely passed round before the peace, and during communion. So what if we developed some kind of liturgy around them?
It might seem quite frivolous in some ways; this requirement is one born of a national emergency, and involves something not thought of 2000 years ago. But then look at other responses to medical emergencies; there are complete sets of instructions on how to baptise a new-born who is likely to die any moment. Our liturgy has been responsive to individual needs in the past, so why not now?
At transcendence, Sue had the brilliant idea that, as the bottle goes round before people receive communion, people might like to use the words recommended for a priest to pray when washing their hands before celebrating communion (a fairly high-church practice). The words are basically “wash me of my sins and make me fit to serve”. Admittedly, the prayer ought to be about 2 minutes long, as this is the NHS recommended length of time to take when cleaning one’s hands.
It seemed such a simple idea, but a very profound one, that a prayer of about 10-15 words in length that one could pray at an otherwise uninspiring moment. So I had an idea: what if I try and remember to pray something similar every time I gel my hands?
I began doing it at Greenbelt, where the dispensers were pretty much everywhere. Sometimes I make it more of a dedication: “Lord, bless my hands for your work”, others more of a confession. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many times when hand gel appears outside of festival land, so its not something I’ve done in the last two days. But the bottle is in my bag and I’m sure to need it soon.
I do wonder if, especially in those churches that find ways to integrate the gel into the service, the gel might become a default feature of services. Will, as Rev Jeremy Fletcher suggested, congregations go up in arms the moment we switch brands? It is, after all, something churches in the UK are very good at.
But that’s not the point I want to get to. The fact is, liturgy hasn’t always been as it is, and much of it is written from church experience more than from biblical matters. This doesn’t mean its less relevant; like I said, hand gel didn’t exist and medical understandings of cleanliness were 1800 (approx) in the future. We simply can’t assume that the liturgy that handled life’s situations in one century will do so in the next, and perhaps medical issues are the most common cause of changes in liturgical tradition. If the hand gel is here to stay, we might as well find a means by which to integrate it in our spiritual lives.