Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Worship Gestures

“What are you doing? Sign language?” asked disciple junior grade Ah Beng of disciple senior grade Ah Kong. “Making the sign of the cross,” replied Ah Kong knowingly.

“Why?" Ah Beng asked again, reaching out for the last piece of bread on the table. They were having dinner in a large wooden shed. The simple wooden shed is the site for the Annual Conference of Desert Fathers, Mothers, and Hermits. Usually the hermits attend by proxy.

“Abba Isaac is doing it, that’s why” replied Ah Kong with an air of superiority. “I saw him making the sign of the cross over his bread just before he eats it.”

“Does that make it holy bread?” asked Ah Beng with an air of innocence. “You trying to be funny,” Ah Kong asked suspiciously, rolling up his sleeves.

“No fighting,” said Abba Isaac to his disciples, “What are you two arguing about?”

“It’s this sign,” Ah Kong answered making a motion of his hand over his body, up down, then side to side.

“What sign?” asked Abba Isaac with a surprised look on his face, “why are you waving your hand like that?”

“I am doing the sign of the cross like you did before you say grace” replied Ah Kong.

“Ah so,” nodded Abba Isaac understanding. “first, stop waving your hand when you make the sign. Watch me.”

Holding three fingers together - thumb, forefinger, and middle finger - Abba Isaac demonstrated to his disciples how to make the sign of the cross.

“The three fingers symbols the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The two fingers on your palms represent the two natures of Christ, human and divine. When you drop your hand from your forehead to waist, it represents Christ’s descend to earth. The upward movement is the resurrection. I do this to remind myself of Our Lord”

“But Abba Mathenius uses two fingers only,” said Ah Kong, “I saw him.”

“Abba Mathenius’ uses two fingers to signify the two natures of Christ and the three fingers on his palm, the Trinity. Notice how he makes the large cross over his whole body,” explains Abba Isaac. “He said it reminds him of God’s vastness.”

“How about Abba Rinardo?” chipped in Ah Beng, not wanting to be left out. “He crosses himself from left to right. Or Abba Andropus. He crosses himself from right to left.”

“Maybe Abba Andropus is left handed.” Ah Kong said.

“Abba Rinardo is from Rome. The Roman Catholics uses the left to right movement which is the left cross. With that gesture, his followers signify that they do not wish to be on Christ’s left but rather be at Christ’s right side. Remember Christ’s parable on the goat and sheep? The goats will be on Christ’s left and the sheep on Christ’s right on the day of judgement. You do not want to be a goat on the day of judgement. Understand?”

“Ai yah, there is no sheep in China, only goats!” exclaimed Ah Beng.

“Stupid!” shouted Ah Kong, whacking Ah Beng on the head. “Jesus is speaking figuratively.”

“Oh,” Ah Beng whispered sheepishly.

“Abba Andropus,” continued Abba Isaac as if nothing has happened, “is from Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church’s gesture from right to left symbolises Christ descended from heaven to earth and to the Jews on the right and he now have passed to the Gentiles on the left.”

“We don’t do that,” said Ah Kong smugly, “we are Protestants!” “What are we protesting against...” Ah Beng started to say. “That’s a misconception,” Abba Isaac interrupted, “Abba Martin Luther prescribe using the sign of the cross. The Anglicans and Lutherans are still using it today.”

“Shall we cross left to right or right to left?” wondered Ah Beng, “Ah, I know-lah, left cross one day, right cross another day. Left, right, left, right.”

And Abba Isaac sighed.


For many of us, worship is the section of Sunday service where we sing hymns or songs to the accompaniment of musical instruments and PowerPoint sceneries. Worship is more than that and should encompass the whole of our lives. It is more than using our mouths to sing. It should involve our mind, heart, spirit and body. Not many of us realise how our bodies are also involved in worship. It may be as simple as closing our eyes while we sing, or opening our hands, or lifting our arms. During prayers, we lean forward and close our eyes. When we feel the Lord’s presence, we may have an intense desire to kneel, or even lie prostrate on the ground. All these are indications that our physical bodies are involved in the act of worship. These are our body language of worship. And consciously or unconsciously it may help us to worship better.

During its long history, the Church understands that our bodies worship together with our mind, spirit and soul. That is why Church developed liturgy in the worship services and certain practices. These practice or action reminds our body of their language of worship. In other words, it primes our body for worship. Making the sign of the cross is one. Nobody knows when and how it originates. It does, however, help some people to recall their body language of worship. The great Church Father John Chrysostom said, “You should not just trace the cross with your finger, but you should do it in faith.”

Reflection Questions

1. What is your body language of worship? To identify it, think of what posture is most helpful in your worship. Is it sitting, walking, kneeling, lying prostate or on your back? Does lighting a candle or incense helps? Discover your body language of worship and experiment with other postures too.

2. Which aspect of your church worship service reminds your body of worship? Is it during the singing, listening to the sermon, taking part in the Holy Communion, or reading the Bible during scripture reading? How will you use this to enhance your worship encounter?

3. The body language of worship connects thinking and doing. Which liturgy or parts of your church’s worship service reminds you of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Using the sign of the cross is one of the ways some Christians use to remind themselves of the Trinity. What practices or rituals do you use to remind yourself of the presence of the Trinity?

Father God,

We thank you for creating us as body and spirit. We thank you for our bodies-whatever shape, size and colour. As the psalmist said, our bodies are beautifully and wonderfully made. We thank you for this fantastic creation. Teach us to worship you in spirit and in truth. Teach us to worship you with our bodies as well as our minds, souls and spirits.


Soli Deo Gloria

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