A Stance Worthy of Worship
Part of any good training in human service work is a section on Non-Violent Crisis Intervention (NVCI). NVCI employs specific “non-threatening” postures to assume when dealing with a potentially violent individual. Training in anger management includes developing a sensitivity to bodily tensions which could erupt in an episode. Criminal interrogators are experienced in spotting body language that reveals a suspect is lying.
All of These indicate the truth that body and mind very much work together. Try it yourself: Stand with feet spread, arms on hips, and brow furrowed and soon you will begin to feel anger. Sit down, lean forward, give eye contact and smile and you will appear — and actually become — more engaged with the one to whom you are speaking. We communicate things both verbally and non-verbally…to others, to ourselves, and also to ourselves about our approach to God.
Scripture mentions many postures in our approach before God in prayer: standing, kneeling, bowing, lifting our eyes to heaven, lying prostrate, and raising our hands.
Long ago God spoke through Isaiah, “…I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.” (Isaiah 45:23).
Nehemiah records a variety of physical stances at the reading of the law by Ezra…
“Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Neh. 8:5-6).
Faces to the ground reminds us that we come before a Mighty One indeed — Creature in audience with Creator! Yet still alive. What grace admits this possibility! “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit,” writes Paul, “…Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Augustine writes “The bodies of irrational animals are bent toward the ground, whereas man was made to walk erect with his eyes on heaven, as though to remind him to keep his thoughts on things above.” (City of God).
In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis has senior demon Screwtape advise understudy demon Wormwood “At the very least, they [humans] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget… that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”
Indeed, was not the serpent’s punishment to crawl upon the dirt also a symbol of God’s dominion over him? (see Gen. 3:14-15). So with us when we lower ourselves we direct our bodies to physically express this same truth that God is Supreme.
Certainly God hears our prayers and receives our worship whatever our posture. To “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) requires it. Those physically limited can still pray, still worship. But to set aside a special hour, a special place, and a special stance is to honour God in ways most befitting… most conducive to the mortal touching the immortal.