BODY TALK – PHYSICAL EXPRESSION AND WORSHIP SINGING

worship-singers This post is the first of two intended to address physical expression during worship singing. The point of dividing into two articles was for the first to speak to the individual worshiper’s physical response and involvement, and for the follow up to be concerned with the church body’s corporate expression. Although I will address worship singing in this divided manner (individual vs. corporate), the fact is that they inseparably affect one another. With that intertwining in mind, let’s look at the physical involvement of the individual in worship, and extend that consideration to worship singing in particular. Let’s start with some obvious facts.

  1. We are physical beings. God did not create us as disembodied vapor. In fact, our physical presence is how we recognize one another in the first place. If you ask me if I know a certain person, I will think of physical characteristics such as what the person looks like as I remember them. If this is someone I have known fairly well I may recall how they walk, what their voice sounds like when they talk, how they laugh, how they interact with others, including me. I might recall their expressions of hospitality, warmth, or lack of these characteristics. Even personality traits, sense of humor, and sensitivity are assessed based on our perceptions attained through observation of a person’s physical actions in situations. We are physical beings.
  1. Christianity is a holistic reality. God created us “a living soul” (Genesis 2:7) when He breathed life’s breath into humanity. Although the false gnostic idea of a separate body and soul are far too often fostered in our compartmentalized culture, and sadly even in our churches, to be Christian involves our whole being. After all, the first commandment is this, And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength (Mark 12:30) God has given us bodies to fulfill His commands and mission. We are built to worship. In His glorious grace and wisdom God has given us a capacity to know Him and respond to Him. “Through scientific research we are gaining fuller understanding of how our bodies work, and this research is telling a fascinating story: our body’s design enables us to commune with God and to fellowship more closely with others.”[1]
  1. Scripture is filled with examples and instructions of physical expressions in response to God. In a blog post on this same theme, author/worship leader/songwriter, Bob Kauflin notes some of these as including clapping, singing, bowing, kneeling, lifting hands, shouting, playing instruments, dancing, and standing ( 47:1Eph. 5:19Ps. 95:6;Ps. 134:2Ps. 33:1Rev. 15:2Ps. 149:3Ps. 22:23). One of the first things I remember Robert Webber saying in an opening convocation at the Robert E Webber Institute for Worship Studies was to underscore that there is no one word in scripture translated “worship.” Rather there are several, and many have to do with physical actions and postures that all work together giving us some understanding of what it is to engage with God in worship.
  1. Engaging in physical expression not only further forms our worship expression (and in the process influences other worshipers), but is one way our worship forms us. As an example, lifting our hands in praise, also places us in a posture of submission and surrender. The same is true of kneeling to pray. While we may kneel to express our need, we are at once shaped by the posture of humility, something the Bible teaches us is required of us (Micah 6:8).
  1. Expressions of worship in private may include physical expressions different than public or corporate worship expressions. Throwing myself in the floor at church would likely scare the children, and panic my own family. The Spirit’s revelation of truth through God’s Word, or assurance in private revelation, however, may call for such a response.

Why consider this in conjunction with singing our worship?

  • Physical engagement may embody the text of what you are singing. Whether it is a new worship song that has recently become part of your expression, or a traditional hymn that has stood the test of time, engaging our bodies in the expression of worship that we are already expressing with our lips and voices can further form us in the spiritual dynamic involved.
  • Sometimes the lyrics we sing imply we are “lifting holy hands,” or “bowing before your throne” or “kneeling in your presence” and thus it seems appropriate to question if we should act on the lyrics we profess in real time.
  • Seems to me that in public settings it is during the time of singing in worship that we experience the quandary of an open expressiveness by some, and/or a feeling of restriction or discomfort by others. Conscientious leaders can help us know what is best in corporate worship (More on this next week).
  • Singing IS a physical act! It involves the whole person, mind, body, spirit. Read Methodist evangelist, John Wesley’s words in his Preamble to a 1761 Hymnal in his “Directions for Singing” instruction #4:
    • Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, than when you sing the songs of the world. (John Wesley – Rules for Singing)

[1] Rob Moll, What the Body Knows About God (InterVarsityPress 2014) pg 16

 

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Private Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

One Comment on “BODY TALK – PHYSICAL EXPRESSION AND WORSHIP SINGING”


  1. […] Paul Clark reminds us that worship isn’t just spiritual or intellectual – it’s also physic…: […]


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