This morning on Televisión there was a story about a singing group in California that broke up due to internal conflicts. The reporter interviewed one of the lead singers who had a lot of bad things to say about the other side of the issue. One question asked was, "If you met them on the street would you greet them?"
"No," came the quick reply. "God forgive me, but I cannot and will never trust them."
Aha! As one who sees himself as a bridge between peoples, the poignancy of this moment and a cultural teaching opportunity is too much to pass up.
What is greeting in the Latin context that it implies trust? Indeed, that is the case. "Saludar" is an extension of not just amiable and polite feelings, but of trust. A greeting is seen as an encounter between souls, not just bodies. For the average Anglo a greeting is a simple sanctioned white lie: "How are you?" "Fine." It is an aknowledgement that you happen to be taking up space close enough to me that I can't politely ignore you. Obviously a greeting is not a greeting is not a greeting. The Hebrew, "Shalom" is a prayer for wellbeing on every level. In the South East Islands a long and involved dance is required when two clans meet as a way of determining the relative strength and intentions of each group. "Greeting" can take up to an hour. Similar practices were common among the Shuar and Achuar, the head-shrinkers of eastern Ecuador and Peru.
So who is right? From the standpoint of a cultural anthropologist it is impossible to say who is "right." What is "right" is what is effective in each cultural setting. That stance works as long as people groups do not intermingle. In today's world that is hardly a workable scenario.
So who is "right?" Well, each of us works out the details in terms of the particular relationships with those of other cultures with whom we happen to be relating. We create a special deal between them and me, a third context which is negotiated between us.
What does that have to do with my Christian faith? Well, greetings are ways of initiating and maintaining relationships over time. God was the initiator in the relationship He seeks with humanity. He has "greeted" us in the wisdom of the prophets, and in the definitive way that He did so in His Son, come in the person of Jesus of Palestine of the first century.
The question is, how shall we return His greeting? Here the wisdom of every culture can probably inform our response, but to borrow from the two that are most common in my area of Texas try the following.
We normally learn to greet God like Anglos do, keeping a little distance. That's OK, God can handle that. In fact, sometimes He is that way with us--keeps a bit of distance, makes us look for Him. That distance creates an ebb and flow that is the lifeblood of every relationship. However, the Hispanic intimacy that infuses moments of interaction with great meaning is also an important way to "greet" God. He certainly does so for us. In the Incarnation He became one of us. In Baptism He adopts us. In the Eucharist He feeds us. Sometimes we find Him in the most meaningful and profound ways that it inspires us to paint, sing, dance, write, do something to somehow cram the depth of our experience into some sort of symbol by which we can try to grab hold of it, share it, and let it form us. Maybe we even do a greeting dance with God by which we assess just who we are in relation to Him. But always, in whatever way we choose, God's greeting of us has as its end our shalom--the deep and multidimensional well-being that is the life abundant that Jesus came to give us. May we bless one another in the same way!