Were you slapped at your confirmation?
We don’t do that anymore and, in this week’s All Things New, I wonder if we need to bring back the slap:
Earlier this month, I was serving as deacon at our parish confirmation in Queens. The bishop anointed each of the kids as they came forward and then—I braced for the slap, waited for it—he extended a palm . . . and shook their hands. And he smiled as he did it.He shook their hands?!
He could have been selling them a used car. The handshake in and of itself was harmless and benign, a congratulatory gesture that seemed to say, “Welcome to the club. And have a nice a day.” But whatever else the newly confirmed may have experienced that day, I doubt it was anything approaching the gloomy sense of worry that gripped me all those years ago.
And that, I think, may be a problem.
I once jokingly said to my pastor, “Once they stopped slapping us, that was when things slid downhill.” It sounded funny at the time. But as I think of it now—like that symbolic slap from long ago—that crack carries the sting of truth.
Somewhere along the way, the church lost a sense of severity, of seriousness. Of, well, sin. Our pulpits became lecterns, our pews became chairs, and a slap evolved into a handshake. We replaced “Come Holy Ghost” with “Whatsoever You Do,” and decided to stand instead of kneel. The ominous chords of organs were replaced by the plucking strings of guitars. We designed our churches to have round corners and low altars. We scrapped the habits and unbuttoned the collars and made everything endearingly approachable and utterly bland.
What happened? I’m sure it seemed healthy and constructive at the time. But I can’t escape the feeling that, in the midst of it all we surrendered something vital and valuable: we lost a sense of sacred awe.