Everyone who’s spent eleven minutes in a first grade Sunday School class knows that you’re required to bow your head and fold your hands when you pray. It’s a requirement that gets less strict as you age. As far as I can tell, it’s mostly meant for littles to keep them from whispering while you bend the ear of the Great Creator to thank Him for letting you be in the same room as the food you’re almost allowed to eat.
I was okay with this rule as a tiny one, but I didn’t really get it. As I grew up and found out God could hear you regardless of what position your hands were in, I started to think maybe praying eyes-open-and-face-forward was superior to it. in any case, it seemed like the way big kids prayed. Folding your hands feels very first-grade after a while.
Now, flash-forward a few years to one of the maybe nine things I know now: the cool thing about praying is that there’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you’re being honest and know that you’re talking to the one who made you.
But still – I think posture does matter. Bear with me. Kick out that image of Mia Thermopolis being told that Princesses don’t slouch (weren’t you thinking of that scene? Get out of my face I’m always thinking about Princess Diaries).
Let me go ahead and point at some other people who say this better than I do. I have a distinct memory of one middle school church service in which we were asked to assume a “posture of reverence” before praying. I also remember blinking a few times while I processed the request. Look, I was homeschooled, I wasn’t dumb. I knew what the words meant, but I only sort of got what he was saying. Mostly, it was a strange thing to hear from the person who said it – i.e., the game leader, i.e., the coordinator of so much sixth-grader on sixth-grader violence.
It was interesting to see how the group responded to our leader’s suggestion. A couple dozen middle school kids channeled their respect into their respective positions – some bowed their heads, some tilted their heads back, some closed their eyes, and some nodded through the prayer. Obviously, I peeked or I wouldn’t know this at all.
But I get it now.
Another church leader I knew just a few years ago used to ask the congregation to stand when he read from the Bible. This one was a jolly good time because in the bigger crowd of a grown-up service, there were more reactions. You heard a couple of complaints from the people behind you who had “just gotten comfortable” and you saw a few people hop to their feet like they were about to welcome in a bride on her wedding day. Still, everyone stood all the same.
(they got it then)
In the Good Friday church service tonight, the pastor talked about Jesus’ sacrifice. What else can you talk about on Good Friday? We talked about a crown of thorns being pressed down over Jesus’ forehead. We talked about how a man was mocked, flogged, nailed to a cross, and impaled. We talked about how all this was done to Him not because of anything He had done or hadn’t done, but because they didn’t believe He was who He said He was.
Quick aside: I wonder what people outside of the church must think when we start to wax eloquent about this topic. Does it sound as morbid as I think it sounds? Look – I’ve been going to church for twenty years. If I know anything, I know that we use way more blood metaphors than is probably healthy.
But the thing about the story of Jesus is that just where it gets morbid, hopeless, and dark, it gets brilliantly bright. Jesus is alive. That’s why Easter is a celebration.
When the singing started again, there was a burst of energy in the mood. People danced and laughed and cried. As we slipped into the chorus of the song, our pastor asked everybody to raise their hands as a sign of surrender to God; I swear, arms went up so fast anyone would have thought they were waiting for permission.
It wasn’t just some mob mentality. It wasn’t a tired group of people following orders. What happened tonight, and what has been happening for thousands of years when Christians get together, was a posture of reverence. It was a physical reaction to a spiritual sensation.
Bodily posture isn’t the moral of this story. It’s wonderful, and it’s a form of worship, but mental posture is where we really need to hold that respect. Everything we do comes from our attitude and our intentions. It’s really what all communication is about. How would your manner change if you were about to have a conversation with the person who created the universe with all its sunsets and birdsong and oceans and orange trees and mountains – and then felt it just as necessary to create you? The person who loved you so much He died for you?
Someone I want to be when I grow up once said, “You will never fail to meet God if you bring Him with you.” It’s worth a mention that God does not groan about having “just gotten comfortable” when you ask Him to come along. So why are you hurting yourself? Why are you waiting to be better before moving forward?
The work is done. The battle is over. Jesus already won. Even as you think it’s gotten too dark to see, it’s about to be too bright to take. It’s only Friday. To borrow a phrase used by hopeful people the world over, Sunday is coming.
I don’t mean to shove a sermon in your face because I know I’m not qualified to do that. What I do know is that my posture needs work; in a world that has been slouching for years past and for years to come, I want to encourage all of us to stand up straight.
Your posture of reverence may well look different from mine (and I’ve got a bad habit of peeking, so I’ll know when it does), but the important thing is that we have that reverence and let our worship come from it.
One last thing before you go: Happy Easter! Here’s to Jesus and eating chocolate until we’re sick.