Worship, in English, can mean to “declare worth.” That’s comfortable. However, in the original Greek, proskynéō means to kiss the ground while falling prostrate to a superior. When was the last time you fell to your knees before someone or something of such awesome worth or value?
I [John] fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them [the prophecies] to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”
The angel is saying to John, don’t fall down before me, but fall down before the One God, individually and corporately.
In some ways, the Muslim expression of worship is more in keeping with the intent of the word. Other faiths like the Orthodox denominations, Catholics, and some Eastern religions practice deep bowing and submissive movements. In recent years, some charismatic believers have found their deepest experience of prayer when it is coupled with lying prone, face down.
But most of us have lost the physicality of worship. A high church may still have kneelers (to make the submissive act more agreeable) but generally, the most common form of respect is standing up, not kneeling. Some church congretations stand to sing and some stand to pray while still others stand to hear a gospel passage spoken. There are denominations who do lots of standing up and sitting down (with a kneel or two in between) and there are denominations who have made the standing part optional, for those who find standing difficult.
And yet, for little children, the cliche for night time prayers is on the knees at the side of the bed. Perhaps even that has gone a bit out of style, I don’t really know, although figurines still abound with cherub children, hands sweetly folded, and eyes closed. It’s sweet. It’s innocent. But is it worship? Is it prayer? Is it surrender? Why do we encourage children to do this kneeling bit but not we ourselves?
In more contemporary churches, worship has come t mean the singing part of a service: a series of songs, starting with fast praise and then followed by a gradual slow down into devotional melodies and words of adoration. And repetition has become a sign of a deeper experience.
I’m not putting any of these “expressions” down. I faithfully attend a contemporary church. I’m right in there.
But, if I take any time at all to think about it, I do find most forms of Western worship to be very predictable and perhaps, if truth be told, a bit colorless and watered down. We keep boiling down the experience of worship into the most common denominator. Whether the service is a lively 60 minutes or a filibustering three to four hours, we are no closer to kissing the ground before God in adulation and acknowledgment of a divine presence.
After visiting several churches of the Middle Ages up through the Renaissance periods in Europe, I can understand why they designed them that way: they were attempting to remind us of the enormousness of God and smallness of Human. Whether sitting, standing, or kneeling, a person feels the divergence between self and the vaulted representation of all that is above and beyond. What do we have in the U.S.? Mauve chairs, blue carpet and artificial flower arrangements. Comfort, comfort, comfort, to the eye as well as the buttocks.
Everything is so controlled in our churches. Either it’s a repetitive liturgy or it’s an “order of service” that is constrained by the clock. Even those services not confined to time are confined to set rituals.
How many times have I really felt and expressed my absolute surrender to God, Spirit God, Father God, Holy God? When has my body responded spontaneously to my soul’s understanding? When did I ever put my life in danger and touch the hem of the Master’s cloak or wash His feet with tears and dry them with my hair? When did we moderns lose our ability to relinquish self to the Holy Spirit?