I grew up in churches (and cultures) where worshiping with your body was viewed rather judgmentally. At least, you knew who the congregants were who raised their hands while singing, and they always sat in the very front pews. When I was in middle school, my family attended a couple mega-churches for short periods of time, and I remember feeling uncomfortable. Why were all these people so enthusiastic? Weren’t we supposed to be holy and reserved in approaching God’s throne?
My junior year of high school, I had the honor of attending and performing in a Roman Catholic wedding ceremony. During the confession of sins and prayer, the priest called everyone to kneel. I remember the awkward shuffling of limbs and torsos as we all pulled out the kneelers in front of us and knelt in this public yet sacred space. Once again, I felt uncomfortable. I knelt by my bed sometimes, and I even danced to worship music within the privacy of my own room, but doing so in front of other people? Scandalous.
But something shifted for me at that point of kneeling before the Lord with fellow Christians.
The first time I raised my hands in public worship was during a college chapel service. I felt awkward, embarrassed… free. Over the course of time, as I grew more comfortable with it, I realized that I could not possibly keep worship inside. David danced like a fool for the Lord despite the judgment his wife cast upon him. The psalms are filled with examples of God’s people coming together to make music to Him, shouting praises and surely allowing themselves to physically express the joy that filled their inmost being.
While attending Urbana18 this past December, I walked into a room set aside for prayer and reflection. In the middle of the room stood a cross draped in dark purple fabric. Several students lay completely prostrate around it, arms and legs outstretched with their faces pressed to the ground. I later realized that that was the ultimate picture of surrender. It was vulnerable. It was trusting. When we’re lying on the ground like that, we can’t defend ourselves; we’re risking our lives to any number of threats (backstabbing, both physically and figuratively). Yet here were some of God’s people, wholly surrendered in body and soul to wherever He would lead them, no matter the cost. “Here I am,” they said, along with the prophet Isaiah. “Here I am; send me.”
I’m coming to realize that physical expressions of worship help our own bodies to understand what it means to commit ourselves to God. The body and the soul are not separate things; each affects the other, and it’s especially hard to understand the soul without seeing how it’s impacted and expressed by our human bodies. I’ve also found that the awkwardness is a necessary reminder of my broken humanity and God’s healing divinity. As I stumble forward, He holds me upright.
Not everyone worships the same way. Some are more reserved, others are more expressive, and there’s an unending gradient of differences on either end. For me, I had to come to realize that bodily expressions of worship are not crazy. It’s simply the outpouring of what’s already inside, allowing us to fully engage in giving our all to Jesus.