I confess I was disappointed as we entered the spired stone church in down-town Capetown, when I saw the priest setting out communion was not Archbishop Tutu. This was the only time we had to chance a meeting with the Archbishop. I’d heard that at Friday morning communion, free chuckles, autographs and breakfast afterwards were the order of the day when the Archbishop was in town. But he never advertises when he will be there. He wants people to come and worship, not gawk.
Breakfast with the archbishop. It’s been on my dream list for years. But to be served communion, to be walked through the liturgy up and down the hills of words said for centuries by that nasally voice that had guided so many others through the years—the voice I knew from old news reports, pleading for non-violence, for freedom—to have those hands break the bread, the bread of life, that would have been special.
Sitting in the cavernous cathedral at 7:15am with the worn-our rag-tag group of siblings that I had dragged out of bed on our last real day of our road trip—our last day in Capetown, the beginning of the end—the air in the building felt sad.
It is the new year. But it doesn’t feel new, it feels old. We are leaving South Africa. In April. For David to keep studying. And it has been good here. But now I am butter-scraped-over-too-much-bread-tired, and I have the restless feeling in my stomach that I get before leaving—that pulling up of fragile roots that took two and a half long years to grow, that slow shutting of doors again and again and again.
And the vast cathedral hangs overhead, and the five of us shuffle along the hard pew, feeling like outsiders and thinking we should have stayed in bed, or at least taken showers. But then we stand and pray, and sit and read, and the words of poetry and eternal life flow over us, and then the priest says, ‘Let us stand for the passing of the peace.”
And everyone—there’s not more than twenty other people in the room—stand, move out of their seats and come towards us. This is not just a polite ritual, a “turn and shake hands with your neighbor” time. This is everyone seeking out every other person intentionally, and clasping hands, or kissing cheeks (this is Capetown after all, we like to be European) and saying:
“The peace of God be with you.”
“And with you.”
And I am taken suddenly back to a different place—a place where I was also a stranger—one of the few white faces in a crowd of chocolate brown, a lost college student, stomach empty after pulling up roots I’d buried in South Africa for 18 years, and the gospel music paused and the Pastor said,“No matter who you are, what you look like, or what you have done, you are going to be loved in this place.” And the everyone left their seats and began greeting each other, wrapping each other in giant hugs.
That’s something you miss when you are a stranger. When you don’t know anyone well enough to give them a “hello” or “I’ve missed you”, or “I’m sorry” hug.
And that moment, swimming in hugs in the house of God reminded me of another place, when I was young, at our Zulu church that met in a classroom that tasted like red dust, and a large, echoey voice would blast out the Zulu chorus, “Kwenze Kahle” and everyone would join in the song, get up and shake hands—everyone shaking the hand of everyone else until we ended up in one big singing circle.
The peace of God be with you.
It’s a blessing.
It’s God’s peace.
But we can pass it.
David explains to the priest who we all are on our way out. “All studying and going back to America now, hey?” he says, eyeing us line of Binion siblings. “Well, come back soon. Your country needs you.”
Your country. Not this country. It strikes me as something the archbishop would say.
And as we get in the car to start the 18 hour drive through the hot karoo desert to drop my brother at the Joburg airport, we pass hills and golden grass, and big, wide open spaces and I think of the passing of the peace. And I think even though the archbishop wasn’t there, it was still a good service.
Right now I will hang on to the peace that was passed to me with two hands, and I will hold it tightly through the bumpy road ahead, and I will pass it on, trusting that there will be more.
The peace of God be with you.