Friday, October 2, 2009

Physicality in Worship

First off, today is the Feast of the Guardian Angels.
So, have you hugged your angel today? ;)
Okay, so that's probably only funny to me, because I did a post a while back titled 'Don't Hug the Angel' - which was all about how angels are not fluffy bunnies of love like some people think.
On to the post!

We, as human beings, have been given both bodies and souls and minds. It's not enough, in my opinion, to worship God *only* with your soul and mind. The body (since we're the only created beings who get all this) *must* be involved.
I see too much of this:
People just sitting in their pews, as if their mere physical presence in a church is enough. I don't think it is. Part of what attracted me to Catholicism, and part of what I appreciate in Orthodoxy and Islam as well, is that your body is engaged in the act of worship.

Now, of course, as I go along, things change, and I wish that there was *more* physicality in Catholic worship. I wish we could prostrate in Mass. I wish we didn't have *pews* and had an open floor plan like a mosque or some (older) Orthodox churches.

Since, however, we *do* have pews, I just prostrate to my little hearts content in private worship at home. :)
I usually wind up like these women kneeling in sujood (only I like to think my butt isn't that high, but it probably is...):
There is, of course, a *wrong* way to throw your body into worship, like these lovely Pentacostal people here (it was one of the only ones I could find that didn't involve snake handling):
Look, I'm 90% sure that none of these people have ever participated in a Sabbat or other pagan ritual. If they had, they'd realize the frenzy they work themselves up to is almost exactly what happens in *so many* of them.
Also, 'praying hands' vs. orans. I fall on the side of orans.
To me, it feels like this: With my hands clasped, I feel like I'm *begging*, and *clinging* to myself and my troubles, my wants. When I lift my hands up, I'm *offering* to God. Offering everything - myself, my problems, my desires, my life.

So I typically look similar to this young woman when I pray:
Though I don't hold my hands in front of my face like she's doing.
Aannnddd...on a vaguely related note. Why do all Muslim prayer outfits look like they're made out of bed sheets? They all have these little patterns on them that literally make you look like you took a sheet and wrapped it around yourself. Why?


  1. I don't know why they look like bedsheets, but they so do! I got one from Egypt and it's huge and long. I'm 5'9 and it's a few inches longer than I would need. I don't think anyone needs anything that long!! How many 6'3 Muslims do you see?!

    But the pattern... Not really cute! It feels like wearing oversized pyjamas. I don't think it's important to look good to pray, but it's important to feel good, and it only helps to wear something you feel good in. I'd rather just wear a plain abaya with a comfy plain headscarf than the prayer garment. I feel very modest and appropriate in that.

  2. LOL on the prayer garments. You're right... I did see a girl wearing a totally cute one a couple of weeks ago, though. It was dark red with black polka dots. Of course, I haven't been able to find anything like it anywhere. I'm sure she got it overseas.

  3. I'm so making my own prayer dress. The ones you can buy so do look like bedsheets.

    I agree with your concept of prayer. It would be nice if there was more physicality to it.

  4. I am a convert to Orthodoxy, and the first time I saw a church full of folks making prostrations it sort of freaked me out!

    But then I realized that at some points in the Liturgy that is what we HAVE to symbolizes out total submission and adoration...
    I was overwhelmed!

    Now I don't even think about how my butt is in the air! I just make real sure that I am wearing a floor length skirt and LONG tunic top...

    Thanks for your post, Amber!

  5. Hmmm, interesting post and it's nice to hear your views on prayer postures and even hand postures. My thinking is less rigid -- pray however the Spirit leads you. I don't recall Jesus instructing his disciples what postures to perform when they asked "teach us to pray." Instead he gave the Lord's prayer - a model of what we pray for. I know in the OT some prayed by prostrating and I know there are verses about bowing before our Maker. But I have never seen rigid guidelines (e.g. how to turn your foot, how to hold your hands, when to bow, when to touch your head to the ground, etc.) for prayer postures as Mohammad gave the Muslims. Therefore, I lean more on the side of heart worship and prayer than doing something outwardly. Jesus said to go into a closet .. if you can prostrate in the closet and want to do it that way, that's great. I think the point he was making was to not let it be about show, but about truly talking to our Father.

    I guess I'm a "whatever floats your boat" person on this one. :)

    And just because people raise their hands in church doesn't mean they are Pentecostals who speak in tongues and work themselves into some weird frenzy. Some are, some aren't. I promise. ;)

  6. Candice,

    I think the designer's think it's cute, but they're wrong...

    Heh. I'd swim in them then...

    Yeah, I'd think yours would be a much nicer outfit to pray in, if you had to.

  7. Heather,

    *grin* I've seen some nice, plain ones in pictures, but never in any store I look through. I'm sure you're right and they must be getting them over seas.

  8. LK,

    Oooh....I can't wait to see how that turns out. I'd think it'd be a fairly simple pattern, but then I'm a novice sewer, so I could be wrong. :)

    Thanks, I just think we need to put more of ourselves into worhsip - everything is supposed to be holy, right? So worshiping with our bodies makes sense.

  9. Mamajuliana,

    I guess it would be a little shocking if it was something brand new. :)

    I think lots of people have an issue with prostration *because* it signifies total submission, which is something we're not comfortable with, at all.

    But there are times when it's the *only* appropriate response! Like when you're before God. :)

    Yeah, a long tunic and skirt would definitely be needed if you were praying in prostration in public.

  10. Susanne,

    Well, you know, I wouldn't call my views rigid. I mean, I don't have a set of postures that I think we *have* to make.

    In church, certainly, we're worshiping enmass, and everyone sits and stands and kneels and bows and crosses themselves and prays and sings the same things, but they do that in Protestant churches too. (Okay, not the kneeling and the bowing and the crossing themselves).

    *shrug* We come down to - not everything Jesus taught the Apostles was written down - we have *pieces*. Letters. The rest is Tradition, passed down from the Apostles to their successors, and down to us.

    My problem with 'wherever the Spirit leads' is that 'the Spirit' leads different people in different ways - either it's schizophrenic, or not everyone is hearing the Spirit. It's part of why I chose a faith that doesn't lean on my feelings.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the Apostles were all Jews - they knew the physical gestures that went with praying - Jesus didn't need to tell them.

    But again, I have to say that all that's in the post is simply my opinion and personal preferences. The Catholic church doesn't have the congregation prostrate (though the priests do on Good Friday) at any point, and people are free to pray with clasped hands or orans position if they like. :)

    And the Islamic guidelines for prayer are very, very exact. Though not, to my recollection, in the Qur'an itself, but rather in the ahadith. But then Islam micromanages *every* aspect of a believers life, so exactitude in prayer is unsurprising. That being said, again, not everything is contained in the Bible. Even Protestant churches maintained Traditions that they liked...

    It's not so much that the prayer depends on the outward sign, but that the inner urge to submit, to offer ones self up expresses itself physically. I don't think that God hears me any better if I'm sitting up in bed praying, laying down, or walking on the street. However, my attitude changes - sometimes, the only way to express my desire to submit to God completely, to worship Him utterly, because what else can you do in the face of God? is to get as low as I can - to express my inner feelings by humbling my body.

    "Jesus said to go into a closet .. if you can prostrate in the closet and want to do it that way, that's great. I think the point he was making was to not let it be about show, but about truly talking to our Father."

    You're right, I believe that was his point. And I don't pray the way I do for show. I pray prostrate in my home, behind a locked door. I would only do it in public if I were praying with others who did the same. I wouldn't, say, in the middle of Mass drop into the aisle and start prostrating. For one, it'd be disrespectful, and disruptive, and for another, chances are good I'd only be drawing attention to myself. I mentioned it here, not to brag, but simply to say what it is I think. I don't feel any better than anyone else because I do it this way and they don't. They don't feel it's necessary. All I can do is say what I believe, and why, and let them decide for themselves.

    "And just because people raise their hands in church doesn't mean they are Pentecostals who speak in tongues and work themselves into some weird frenzy. Some are, some aren't. I promise. ;)"

    *grin* I know, but I was thinking of the crazy Pentacostal services I've been too, and so googled 'Pentacostal', so I'm fairly certain those people pictured are Pentacostal.

  11. A prayer dress would be super easy to make. When I do I'll post directions. It is no different than a slightly over sized Abaya. Even a novice can sew one. Actually it would make great sewing practice!

  12. Amber, thanks for your response to my comments. I enjoyed reading what you had to say. Oh, I am sorry if I gave the impression that I thought you were showing off if you prostrated yourself. I didn't mean to imply that at all. :)

  13. Susanne,

    You didn't imply that at all. I mentioned it because that was sort of the point of the verse you quoted - that people were doing things to show how pious they were. :)

  14. Another good prayer garment are the pre-sewn long khimars. You can get them in lengths from elbow all the way down to the floor. They should work slipped over almost anything and are generally just solid colors of subtle patterns.


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