Every day, while at prayer and meditation, I try to work in prostrations in adoration of the Divine Mercy of Jesus.
I do the full-length form of prostrations, and I thoroughly enjoy this practice, this form of worship. Granted, this is a holdover from my Buddhist days, and at first I hesitated with this, wondering if this could be a Christian practice at all? True, Christians (especially Catholics) kneel, genuflect, bow. But prostrations?
But I also didn’t want to give it up, especially since now I have something more worthy to bow before! Buddhists bow/prostrate in reverence to the Buddhas, enlightened teachers, and the teachings of compassion and enlightenment. Very good to respect, even honor, human endeavors to become more compassionate. And the very act of prostrating is good for ridding oneself of ego (one of the goals of Buddhism) and developing humility.
But bowing before our Creator and Savior is entirely different, a whole different level of humility. Because in principle I could become enlightened, as the Buddha did, even if I’m not there yet. But no one can become the Creator! And no one except Jesus can save mankind from sin! So, there’s more reason for humility – before God – and more reason to rid myself of ego – to replace what I want, my thoughts, my goals – with what Jesus wills.
But still, is there a history of Christian prostration? Well, I did a bit of research, and yes, in certain traditions there is. I found this excellent article on prostration in the Coptic Church. Here’s a quote:
Standing, bowing, and especially prostration are linked to the necessity of humility and reverence for being in the presence of God. Fr. Matta el-Meskeen notes that the reverence offered by prostrations is analogous to the reverence of Abraham in Genesis 17, where Abraham prostrates to the ground before the three divine visitors at the oak of Mamre, “as if he were dust and ashes, with a sense of utter contrition” before God, and who also remained standing before God to intercede for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah. The act of moving the whole body to the ground demonstrates the willingness of the person praying to be contrite in heart, and the touching of the ground with the forehead is reminder of his own mortality, returning to the dust of the earth – who is under the mercy of God, the only one believed to be immortal and life-giving. Likewise, standing before God with reverence and humility, in imitation of Abraham, is seen as the appropriate means of interceding for the world.
Furthermore, the act of prostration expresses a powerful Christology. The prostration to the ground expresses the belief in the kenosis, or emptying of glory, of the Son of God. So, this becomes an act of affirming the incarnation of God. Prostrating to the ground and touching the ground with one’s forehead is a further expression of the link between the person and returning to the dust of the earth in death; it expresses the willingness of Jesus to humble himself in obedience to the Father even to the point of death. The holding of one’s hands as fists with the thumbs on top, as well as the sign of the cross before prostrating, express the belief in the victory Jesus won through his crucifixion and resurrection in the battle with sin and death. … Finally, the rising of the person from the ground is an affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, the act of prostrating becomes a medium of expressing the whole of Christology and salvation history: the kenosis and incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection from the dead – in all of which the person participates by imitating Jesus through the actions of the body in prayer.
The act of prostration also yields the richest tropological interpretation of the body as medium of expressing the worshiper’s psyche. The Copts often even name the act of prostration in prayer as “metanoia,” and the word here shows the proper intention of prostration as an act of contrition and repentance. In the same way that a person who dies falls to the ground, the act of prostration expresses the need to allow the human will to die, and subject it to the will of God. Rising from the ground after the prostration expresses the repentant and transformed will that the person chooses to follow. This repentance for acting according to one’s will and subjecting one’s self to God’s will is, as Fr. Matta el-Meskeen puts it in another context, the allowing of God to “move mountains of ice and dirt from our consciences even from the innermost wits of our bones, and the deepest intersection of our souls unattainable by any therapy or physician …God can awaken the new will that is asleep and inflame the conscience with courage, sanctity and purity, untying shackles of the soul and body from the worst uncontrollable habits.”
Here is a video of Christian prostration, with beautiful chanting!
So, I’ve started up prostrations again, and as you can see in the sidebar, I’m working up to 100 a day, like I used to do as a Buddhist a few years ago. But hopefully to better purpose now…