This is one of the British Sign Language signs for "communion" (there are others, but with any language, there are dialects and variances - even in a language that has no spoken word).
Yesterday saw a 'first' for me, and that was presiding at a simple Holy Communion for the deaf Christian community of my town. They are a distinct and faithful congregation, normally served by a excellent chaplain who is currently on sabbatical. I said I would help out.
Now, I may have Stage 2 BSL, but as the saying goes, if you don't use it, you lose it - and I haven't so I almost completely have. In fact, it struck me yesterday that for the people gathered in that church, my signing must have seemed like the Norman Collier microphone sketch to us who are blessed with hearing. Fortunately, the chaplaincy provided a communication worker to sign for me.
I have wanted to do this for years now - and that notwithstanding, I was scared half to death about doing it. Even with my relative comfort with the needs of the deaf community and my feeble inability to meet them, I was a nervous priest as I robed. I needn't have been.
For a bombastic man like me, who fills a 'large space', this was the most beautiful, pure and emotional Eucharist I have ever witnessed, let alone lead - and yet with a very small gathering of witnesses. Every word needed speaking deliberately and slowly, and the Manual Acts became a very special liturgical sign-language all of its own. In a hearing service, the actions form part of the great dance of the Eucharist, but in this very specific context, they were the most alive I have ever experienced. I was reminded how specialist the language of our communion services is, as I had to prepare the service by explaining what certain terms meant to the interpreter. There were a couple of times when I lost my place because I became entranced by the signing of Jesus' words at the Last Supper. Then there was the sermon - which by necessity had to be an overwhelming visual affair in terms of its language and conceptualisation. There were several valuable lessons in that alone.
I think that the most amazing thing was the grace with which this gathered community tolerated and even appreciated this lump-hammer liturgist. I know I was clumsy, but they were glad. It is probably unusual for them to see the priest's Manual Acts because normally their chaplain signs for himself. They certainly watched me and not the interpreter at those points.
Never in my life have I felt more like I was in the Upper Room. Worshipping God and praising Christ are the best of things - but pale into insignificance next to the opportunity to reach out and touch them, with my own clumsy hands.