I attend a fairly large church, upon which my wife and I decided based mainly for its scripture-centered focus. So, the actual format of the service is secondary to the message, which is good, because I’m distracted every Sunday during the music.
The music is “contemporary”, which means that it’s like a rock concert – electric guitars, keyboard, bass, and drum set – with a band consisting of male hipsters “straight outta’ Starbucks”, plus one token female on accompanying vocals, all wearing the requisite “non-churchy” apparel. (Would Jesus wear skinny jeans? It’s not a particularly theological question, but it crosses my mind every service.) (The answer is, “It doesn’t matter.”)
The band has about six songs that they rotate from Sunday to Sunday, all of which sound like variations on Coldplay’s “Fix You.” The words are displayed on giant screens on either side of the stage; however, once you’ve figured out which song it is, you don’t really need to look at the lyrics since you sang them two weeks ago. I find myself looking around at people with their hands raised during the music, which I’ve come to call “Jesus antennas.” I’m utterly fascinated by this.
That I can tell, there are five varieties:
– Single antenna – One arm, usually the right, held straight aloft with the hand open
– Rabbit-ears – Both arms aloft, which could either be seen as two singles, or calling a touchdown, depending upon how badly you’re anticipating the football game that afternoon
– Bob-and-wave – Single antenna, but waved back and forth in time with the music, in conjunction with bobbing the knees to the beat
– Orans posture – I knew I had seen this one somewhere. Elbows to the side, with the arms extended upward and outward, palms usually inward. At first glance, I thought it looked like an Eastern prayer position, like there should be incense rising up between the hands, but, upon investigation, it appears to be of very Christian origin, which frankly makes more sense.
– The “Rose” – Arms straight out to the side, usually with the back arched slightly, chest out, as if the music is washing over them, or they’re in a high wind à la the character Rose from Titanic (“I’m flying, Jack!”). Practitioners of the “Rose” often like to stand in the aisle, probably because they’re worried about getting tangled up with some bob-and-wavers and taking them all down.
I’m obviously having some fun with this, but please don’t interpret that as me belittling or demeaning the practice. I believe that it’s a genuine expression of worship, and I don’t think that people doing it are trying to be ostentatious or showy. The raised hands captivate me because I’m generally more reserved in public, especially in church, and wouldn’t conceive of doing it myself.
I can’t help but wonder where this originated. I don’t remember it from my childhood, when I attended a similar church with a less “contemporary” service, which made me wonder if that’s not part of it. I’ve noticed that the lone female singer has no instrument to hold, and so has nothing to do with her hands other than hold them up. I understand this, because I’d be a complete Ricky Bobby in that position, and so I pondered initially if maybe it started because people simply imitate those on stage who aren’t sure what to do with their hands.
That’s too simplistic, however, and it’s more likely that those on stage and in the congregation are raising their hands for the same reasons. Several sources point toward the “Charismatic Movement,” an adoption of Pentecostal-type practices that has been slowly infusing itself into both Protestant and Catholic churches for decades. The movement is traced back to Pastor David Bennett of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Van Nuys, CA, who told his congregation that he had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit on Easter Sunday, 1960, and changed the church’s style of worship accordingly. From there, it caught on to other churches and denominations and began spreading. By the 1990’s, networks of independent charismatic churches existed. The charismatic churches mostly favor the raised hands and more exuberant worship style of Pentecostal churches while omitting the speaking in tongues.
This is not to say that raising hands in worship is not biblically-based. There are numerous verses in the Bible that advocate the use of hands in different applications of worship – primarily in supplication to and in the blessing of God (incomplete list here). Most are in the Old Testament; however, there are references in the New Testament as well, so the practice continued through the intertestamental period into the time of the early Christians. Paul mentions it specifically in 1 Timothy 2:8, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (ESV).
Interestingly, I found it noted in several sources that the hand position most familiar to Christians – hands folded or clasped together – is not mentioned in the Bible. Origin theories for it include it being an ancient Jewish custom, the Roman indication of surrender, and a medieval sign of submission, any or all of which could have transferred into what we know today.
So, while it may not be something that everyone does, it appears that those who raise their hands up in worship are actually more correct that not. Which is not to say that everyone should start…regardless of how one worships, the expression should be genuine. If that’s with your hands up during the music, then so be it. My hands will probably be in the pockets of my relaxed fit khakis.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/82405581@N00/7414729″>Hands</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>