When is it Appropriate to Kneel: A Historical Review of Worship

(Image is from Getty Images, in CBSSports.com (https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/what-we-know-about-damar-hamlins-current-condition-plus-other-notes-from-what-happened-in-sports-on-monday/)

As the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills are about to play football again tomorrow, I could not help but to reflect upon the last game, on January 2, 2023, when Buffalo’s Damar Hamlin was seriously injured. In fact, this morning, as I was beginning my prayer within the “Liturgy of the Hours,” I got stopped in my tracks in the opening psalm when I read, ““Come, then, let us bow down and worship, bending the knee before the Lord, our maker. For he is our God and we are his people, the flock he shepherds” (Psalms 95: 6-7).

All this prompted me to consider the origin of kneeling, within the context of worship. You see, in our society today, it seems there is a movement away from the worship of the Divine. So, I decided to pursue this to some degree. Here is what I found in the way of bullet points, over the passage of history:

“Come, then, let us bow down and worship, bending the knee before the Lord, our maker. For he is our God and we are his people, the flock he shepherds” (Psalms 95: 6-7, NAB, written in the 10th century BC).

“After Solomon finished offering this entire prayer and petition to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling, hands outstretched toward heaven” (1 Kings 8:54-55, NABRE. Solomon lived in the 7th century BC).

“Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11, ESV. This letter was written around AD 50).

“When [Paul} had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed” (Acts 20: 36, NRSV. This work was written between AD 56-140).

“In Sandro Botticelli’s exquisite panel painting, ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ (c. 1475), the act of kneeling is more than merely worshipful; it is mystically restorative of life itself” (Kelly Grovier, “After a wave of NFL players knelt during the US anthem this week, Kelly Grovier considers the symbolic power of bringing the body low,” BBC, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20170929-the-surprising-power-of-kneeling, September 29, 2017, accessed January 21, 2023).

Kneeling is “a bodily posture which expresses an attitude of humility, especially in worship, prayer or submission to the authority of another person” Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies [London: Martin Manser, 2009], #5161. Verbum).

“The entire [Buffalo] Bills sideline surrounded [Damar] Hamlin as he received care. Multiple Bills players were visibly distressed and comforting one another as athletic trainers cared for him. Many players turned away from watching Hamlin in distress. . . After Hamlin exited the field, Bills players knelt together in a circle and then returned to the sideline” (Coley Harvey and Ben Baby, writing about the traumatic injury during the football game on January 2, 2023, https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/35368372/damar-hamlin-collapses-field-bills-bengals-temporarily-suspended, January 2, 2023, accessed January 21, 2023. The players were praying to the God of their understanding, to restore this football player’s health).

May we as a society never forget the historical origins of kneeling, and kneeling’s association with the worship of the Divine, over human history. May this tragic accident in the above-referenced football game create a renewed awareness of and reliance upon the Divine. We need this!!!!

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