Bahai News - The postures of devotion vary greatly from sanctuary
The postures of devotion vary greatly from sanctuary to
By KRISTEN CAMPBELL Religion Reporter
a) Stand, hands folded, eyes closed
b) Kneel, hands folded, eyes closed
c) Stand, arms raised, eyes open
d) Wash hands, mouth, face and feet; prostrate yourself
e) Sit very still, possibly on a meditation cushion, eyes closed
f) None of the above
g) All of the above
In the United States, the correct answer is "g," plus a
few more variations.
The nation is one in which Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Jews,
Buddhists and Bahai's live side by side - and sometimes share worship
spaces. For all that, many believers are often at a loss as to what goes
on inside their neighbors' sanctuaries, not to mention what motivates
"The remarkable thing is that theologically the groups may be very
close to one another," says Donald K. Berry, professor of religion
at the University of Mobile. "Worship styles may be more divisive
than theology in some respects."
Hence, a Christian accustomed to worshipping in a "high
church" setting in which members sit, stand and kneel as one, may
be unsettled by services in which members clap, shout and stand as they
see fit. The uneasiness might exist though both communities express
similar doctrine and indeed, would be articulating similar ideas through
their disparate actions.
"The different postures are often related to particular kinds of
cultural expressions," said the Rev. Christopher J. Viscardi,
chairman of the theology department at Spring Hill College in Mobile.
For example, he says, in Italy, kissing a hand was a sign of respect to
parents or others. Likewise, he says, genuflecting, or bending the knee,
is a gesture that dates back to the medieval era, when individuals would
bow before those of a higher rank.
Today, many Catholics genuflect before they are seated at Mass, thereby
paying homage to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Some might
also kiss the ring of a bishop to show their respect, Viscardi notes.
Other postures believers might assume during services are rooted
in Scripture. The psalms denote kneeling as a form of praise or
adoration, as well as a sign of submission, Viscardi says, and became
"enshrined" in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church.
Even so, there are exceptions.
"In the Easter liturgy, in the Easter spirit of
Resurrection, instead of kneeling, there are certain times when we stand
to underline the Easter theme of rising again in resurrection,"
To an outsider, the sit-stand-kneel regimen of some liturgical worship
services, as well as the movements common within Buddhist, Hindu and
Muslim communities, may seem like religious calisthenics. To the
member, the movements alone offer a visible prayer, a physical
reflection of the joy, submission and repentance that may permeate some
"There's biblical precedents for everything...from standing in
worship to kneeling to sitting to falling prostrate on the floor,"
says John Chisum, worship pastor at Christ Episcopal Church. "Our
bodies worship just like our spirits worship. God does not separate the
two. Often we do in our own Christian cultures; we decide what is
culturally acceptable within our church traditions."
At Christ Episcopal Church, Chisum says he assumes a variety of postures
as he worships, from kneeling to standing with hands raised. When
kneeling, he says, he is humbling himself publicly before God. In
standing with arms outstretched, he's surrendering to God. Says Chisum:
"It's almost like lifting my arms up to my father, like Daddy,
Abba. Reaching up for him to pick me up and hold me close, like a
While most religious communities encourage corporate worship,
individuals will bring their own theology to the experience, Berry says.
"Each person can commune with God in his own way," Berry says.
"You don't have to be in total agreement with everything that goes
on in a worship service to commune with God, to have that encounter with
God that worship presumes."
Mary Filben, a member of Holy Family Catholic Church in Mobile, has that
encounter when she worships with Mobile's Jewish congregations.
"When I go to the temple or to the synagogue, I love going to the
services there," she says. "For me as a Christian, I know who
I am and what I choose to be. The worship services at the temple and the
synagogue - I come away from there feeling at peace and renewed. So the
temple and synagogue services simply add to my love for
For some, Filben says, the experience would be one to be avoided, or
confronted with trepidation.
"The idea still exists that Christianity superseded the first
covenant and Judaism, and those people who feel that way might be a
little uncomfortable," she says.
But some who avail themselves of opportunities to worship with
their neighbors of other faiths may find themselves surprisingly
at home. Filben remembers a nun who attended a Shabbat service several
years ago; after worship, Filben says, the nun commented on the beauty
of the service and said, "This would be the way that Jesus
Says Filben: "She felt good."
Indeed, Berry notes that believers' perspectives can be enhanced by
worshipping in religious communities different from their own.
A member of First Baptist Church of Mobile, Berry says he enjoys worship
with the Greek Orthodox community in Malbis, as well as with
Episcopalian and Jewish communities along the Gulf Coast.
"Worship is the way that we make our way to God," Berry says.
"Our minds are always free. We can always relate to God in our own
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