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Wed, Nov 01 2006

Physical barriers to spiritual places?

Does the idea of forcing posture to enforce deference to a deity create actual reverence? Architectures of Control has a post on this issue, complete with pictures of a very steep set of exterior steps. Mention is made of buildings where those entering are forced to bend or stoop in low doorways in order to gain admittance to the structure's interior.

If deliberate, such building techniques are certainly more subtle than having a soldier smack one on the shoulder with the flat of a sword and yell to bow down, the way we often see it handled in movies and on TV. But the psychological effect could still be there.

People who meditate sometimes recommend a particular physical posture that would cause me to experience pain and numbness in one particular nerve I have trouble with to the point that I would probably experience something directly opposed to the idea of nirvana. But I do believe meditation has great value as a technique with which to calm and center one's thoughts in the busy world we inhabit. It can help free us from certain notions that hold us back in material ways. I just have to find a posture that will allow me to focus without injuring myself. After all, one should be able to experience at least some spiritual progression in any situation if it's a genuine path to good.

I know people who stay home from traditional Christian churches because of all the standing, sitting and kneeling that goes on during the course of a worship service. They feel like less than full participants because they cannot do church gymnastics. People who stand, sit and kneel without difficulty tell them to come anyway and not worry about it. But they do. I've taken visitors to church who were worried about when to sit and when to stand. One young woman once came in and sat near me. She had dashed in on a busy morning to hear a mutual friend sing for the service. When I spoke to her she asked me if I'd been there before. I had. She asked me to clue her in when it was time to stand or kneel so she wouldn't "look dumb". I thought about that for a long time afterward.

I've often stayed seated during the formal morning church worship prayer when I happen to be beside a person who could not physically kneel, so that they weren't left alone in their posture. I'm always torn at those moments. It could be that the person who is unable to kneel at that moment is happy to just be there. But I always wonder. Is it more important for me to kneel whenever physically able? Is a group worship service more powerful as a personal act between me and the Lord I worship without considering anyone else's physical posture? Is it my place to use everything at my disposal, including my body language, to give worship? Or is it more important that I enter this type of group experience with an attitude toward doing all I can to help fellow worshippers also feel comfortable?

Are traditional church services designed for worship as a group? If so, why do we have group physical rituals that create invisible barriers? We often end up with a service that is easiest for those who are most physically comfortable and most able to complete all the surface movements. If the point is to worship together, I wonder how we could offer more inclusive techniques that make as many people in the congregation or group be a part of that worship as possible? The steps in those pictures are daunting. But I'm concerned that sometimes we set up invisible, but just as steep, sets of steps that have a way of further excluding those who might already be feeling a bit like outsiders.

Can posture pre-empt one's worldly state of mind?

posted at: 07:25 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

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