Monday, September 15, 2014

The Postures of Praise and Prayer. . .

It should be fairly obvious that standing and kneeling form the two most prominent postures of praise and prayer.  Until the 1400s pews or seats were uncommon in churches so sitting was not a routine posture in worship.  The presence of pews, chairs, and fixed seating is due in large measure to the renewal of preaching that began even prior to the Reformation.  But sitting became the central posture of worship when the focus of worship among most Protestants after the Reformation was the preached Word.

As Aidan Kavanaugh noted, the shift to fixed seating defined worship away from liturgy and ritual to "a preachment perpetrated upon the seated."  The other major effect of fixed seating was to limit the ritual of the liturgy to the clergy who were less bound by furniture and then to further liimit the people's participation to one spot.  Eventually their participation ended up being mostly kneeling (which became more prominent than either standing or sitting for Western medieval Christianity). Obviously standing as the ordinary posture of worship had implications for the length of sermons that a seated congregation would not find so burdensome.

Today the seating is also governed by additional desires.  In our age of personal space, individual seats tend to predominate in new construction.  In the non-sacramental churches, these seats take on the character of movie seating, designed for comfort more than anything else.  It is the expectation of most Protestants that they will enter the church to be seated for the duration of the worship service and that the bulk of that worship service will find them hears or spectators to actions done mostly by others for their benefit (or entertainment).  With the usual adornment of large video screens, the comfortable seating of the theater is even more appropriate to the setting than ever before.

In contrast to the verbs of Scripture that describe the nature of worship in active terms, worship has become for many Christians a purely passive endeavor.  The exuberance of the Psalms stands in start contrast to the setting of worship and the way we read and even sing the very texts of those Psalms.  The same Psalms that command nature and inanimate parts of creation to praise the Lord are somehow rendered impotent when it comes to a people who come to sit, watch, and listen.  Our muted expressions of gratitude to the Lord, spoken in almost a frighteningly casual and conversational manner illustrate how little the typical worshiper expects to do on Sunday morning.

Absent the ordinary means of ritual, posture, and ceremony, the liturgy has become the domain of words only.  The way we treat the Word of the Lord (without seriously expecting or anticipating its efficacious character) leaves us with only a manufactured and artificial sentimentality as a definition of faith and piety.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

There are also many Protestants (Charismatics, Pentcostals, and those leaning that way) who have plenty of activity Their ritual consists in hand raising, singing and dancing "to the Lord." Unfortunately, that ritual is more centered upon what the worshipper thinks he/she is doing for God, than reverent reception of that which God gives us.