Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kneeling in Heart and Body

At All Souls, one encounters a variety of postures in prayer.  Especially when it comes to kneeling, the informal Episcopal Church slogan, “All may, some should, but none must,” certainly applies. Physical limitations prevent some from kneeling and whenever one is unsure of one’s stability or strength, I hope that person will feel comfortable standing for prayer and communion.  Others cannot kneel.  But whether permanently or temporarily unable to kneel, one may always “bend the knee of the heart,” to paraphrase the apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh.

Even though I often pray kneeling, increasingly, I find that kneeling is not simply a physical act.  Perhaps at its deepest, kneeling has more to do with an attitude and an orientation.           

One of the most helpful perspectives on kneeling I have found recently comes from the author, Ernie Kurtz (Shame &Guilt, 1981, rev. 2007).  He suggests that kneeling can be understood as a “middle position—half-way between standing upright and lying flat.” 

Sometimes, when we feel overwhelmed by life, by work, by limitation, or by sin, we feel like we have no power and there is nothing we can do.  Kneeling is a reminder that we are never so low as to be lying flat.  We can always do something, even if it is only to raise ourselves up just a bit, to kneel.  We can get up on our knees.   At the other extreme, we are sometimes completely full of ourselves, imagining that we need no one and that nothing can bring us down.  Kneeling then reminds us of our need and helps us in humility.  There’s a balance between control that is absolute and control that is abdicated.  “You can do something,” Kurtz writes, “but not everything.”           

The poet Ann Weems imagines that in each of our hearts there is a Bethlehem, a place for God to be born.  She writes, “In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos, let's listen for the brush of angels' wings. This Advent, let's go to Bethlehem and find our kneeling places” (Kneeling in Bethlehem, 1987).  Whether your bowing is spiritual or physical, whether in heart or in body, I invite you to join me in kneeling, as we observe God’s coming into our world in new ways and with new power. 

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