Worship: A Moving Experience

As I slowed to stop for the red light, I immediately noticed the driver of the car stopped in the lane next to me.  The driver of the white Prius had her left hand on the steering wheel and was waving her free right hand vigorously in the air.  Upon more careful observation, I noticed that her lips were moving and that her hand stopped waving every time she stopped talking.  Still more careful observation revealed that she had a hands-free transceiving sort of device stuck in her ear (not unlike the Borg). 

At least she was not violating RCW 46.61.667 which has prohibited holding a cell phone to one’s ear while driving in Washington since 1 July 2008. 

The importance of gesture, facial expression, posture and other visual cues to oral communications has been thoroughly studied and validated.  We “say” a great deal in conversation with the parts of our bodies which do not make vocal sounds.  An arched eyebrow, a shrug of the shoulders or a thumbs-down gesture can actually reverse the meaning of what we say with our words alone. 

But there was no one else in the car with the lady using the hands-free phone … no one to SEE her right hand carving the air or stabbing a finger for accusatory emphasis.

If the driver’s gesticulations were not intended to add to the message received by the person on the other end of the telephone connection (who couldn’t see them) nor the passenger in the car (who wasn’t there), what were they for?

Perhaps they were more of the sort of gestures made when one is listening to a symphony and the listener’s hands begin to conduct an imagined orchestra which cannot see the rhythm nor the cut-offs.  Or perhaps of the sort one makes when nodding one’s head in agreement or shaking one’s head in disagreement while watching a speech on television all alone.  Or perhaps of the sort the character Tevia made in his conversations with God portrayed in “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

Not everyone makes the same type (nor quantity) of gestures when communicating.  Everyone knows someone who can be described as “unable to speak if you tied her hands behind her back.” 

The Episcopal Church is a good place for people who have a modest need to communicate with their hands and bodies in worship.  Other churches are better for those with a much greater need; still others are better for those with none.

The typical worshipper in an Episcopal service stands to sing, sits to listen and kneels to pray (although there is a great deal of variety among different Episcopal congregations).  Some Episcopalians bow toward the Book of the Gospels as the reading is being announced and concluded.  Some bow during the words concerning the Incarnation in the Nicene Creed.  Some make the sign of the cross on themselves at various points in the liturgy.  A few even genuflect, ‘tho this is not particularly common.  Vested ministers in Episcopal worship rarely move from one place to another without making it a procession.  On Palm Sunday, in most churches, everybody gets into the processional act.

For some, worship is a wholly verbal experience.  One might say that they worship in their heads.  The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (2002) says “In many places, orality fuses with kinaesthetic movement in the liturgy.  Such physical manifestations reflect a holistic understanding of the human person and the worshipping person.” (p. 32)  We may not be dancin’ in the aisles, but our orality fuses nicely with our kinaesthetic movement on our best days. 



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