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On Your Knees, Boy!

Rug burn is good for you


The other night when my son came across me kneeling by the side of the bed with my head resting on my crossed arms he asked me in a worried voice what was going on, and I told him I was praying. As I reassured him that getting on your knees once in a while is a good thing, I realized how downright refreshing some old-fashioned groveling before your Maker can be.

This moment popped back in my head while I was reading an article by Bill Broadway entitled "A Posture of Penance, or a Sign of Respect?" that claims there's currently a trend among churchgoers away from kneeling. This caught me by surprise because, in my mind, bending your legs in church is as automatic as bending your elbow in a bar. Still, I half-dismissed it at first as just something those zany Protestants were up to, especially since the beginning of the article mentioned Episcopalians, who are notorious for doing almost anything.

Even though I'm what you'd consider a "lapsed" Catholic, in some corner of me the lessons hammered into us by the nuns still reverberate, which I guess isn't surprising since it was a form of brainwashing. Anyway, their big-kahuna of a point, if I recall correctly, was that we Catholics were right and everybody else was wrong. The Jews were way wrong, obviously, but even all the other Christians were wrong if they weren't part of the one true Church.

I guess that's where I got the notion of Protestants being a kind of Christian-lite version of the real thing, so it doesn't seem so shocking when they stray from tradition and do soft-headed shit like put pop bands in their services. They can't help it, they just don't know any better because they're wrong and headed for limbo along with the pagan babies we collected pennies for in stiff cardboard boxes. You almost expect them to be a little muddled and misguided.

So it was in a slightly dismissive "those candy-assed Protestants-are-at-it-again" frame of mind that I was reading this article until I got to the part where the author declares that the shift away from kneeling "is most evident in the Catholic churches." Now that really brought me up short, since I feel like I could chart the whole first half of my life growing up Catholic in terms of all the kneeling I did: in pews, at the chilly altar rail, in the creepy confessional, and at the side of my pink-gingham-covered twin bed.

I spent hours, maybe even years, total, with my knees pressed against something, and now the Church is saying "Never mind"? Well, I hope it wasn't all for naught, and that I still get credit in heaven for many uncomfortable miles logged on thinly padded surfaces.

The article quotes a professor as saying people want to get away from kneeling because it gives them a "sense of being sinners." Oh, and there's somebody out there who isn't a sinner? My experience from having to dredge up material while waiting in the confessional line is that you can always uncover something you need forgiveness for, and if you can't, you're either dodging responsibility or you came assembled from a factory.

Apparently instead of praying or even receiving communion on their knees many people prefer to stand. This makes being in church sound roughly the same as being at a cocktail party. Picture it: you upright, wine chalice in hand, gummy Eucharist stuck to your tongue like a lame hors d'oeuvre, casually asking the Big Guy how the new cosmos is coming. The problem is that prayer is not conversational chit-chat between two equals standing toe to toe, it's an encounter between a mere mammal and the immortal Deity. One of you should be crouched down, and it sure ain't Him.

Another professor is quoted as saying that kneeling before God is "medieval," but my guess is it goes way back to primeval times when our ancestors were probably prostrating themselves all over the place in an attempt to get the Big Guy to cut them some slack, and ease up on the natural disasters and drooling predators.

That's the thing about praying. It's all well and good to pursue "more joyful expressions of devotion than the penitential style," but for the many times your ass is in the frying pan, a little self-abasement seems in order. I don't know about you, but if I'm motivated to call on the Lord there's a good chance I'm outright begging for something, never mind expressing joyful devotion.

Being on my knees while I'm doing it is a nice reinforcing touch, as in, Oh Heavenly Father, I really need help now, and am risking rug burn to prove it. We've pretty much eliminated sacrificing small animals -- to God, anyway. The least we can do is offer up some uncomfortable floor-time.

So get down, already. You don't want to reach heaven's threshold only to be turned away by St. Peter scolding, "You should have kneeled."

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