Bowing but Not Scraping

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
—Psalm 95:6

I recently returned from a few months teaching at a seminary in Korea. One thing I had to get used to was all the bowing. While some kind of bow, however slight, is common in Korea when people meet, professors hold a revered position in that society and are favored with a bow of at least 25 degrees. And there is always a bow in return, but at a much smaller degree. Needless to say, I got used to it.

But it did get me thinking about bowing before God and what that means. It’s all over the Bible, from numerous references in the psalms to Revelation’s dramatic portraits of heavenly worship. Interestingly, bowing is not a gesture you’re likely to see in a Protestant church. We are not big on gesture in our worship. For us, it’s the words that count.

One place you can experience bowing in North America is in a monastery. During their regular times of prayer the monks pray the psalms. And, according to centuries-long tradition, after each psalm they speak the familiar words of the Gloria Patri: “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.” With these words, the monks—or nuns—all incline in a low, graceful bow.

On my regular visits to a monastery, I always find that this act moves me deeply, and tears come to my eyes. It’s not just the glorious words spoken or sung—it’s the act of bowing with them that makes it so profound.

Somehow, bowing before God is more than a mere gesture. It allows my body to properly express my deepest identity. Bowing before the Lord is not groveling like some court lackey backing away from a pompous monarch. Bowing before the Lord, my Creator, strangely fulfills me, as though I have found my proper place in the universe. Rather than making me feel insignificant, bowing gives me a deeper sense of my significance as a creature of God.

What would it be like if at the beginning of a worship service the congregation would sing, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker,” and everyone would bow low? I like to think it would feel good and right and true.

We might think of it as practice for the grand finale of history. Then, in John’s glorious vision, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” bows in worship, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).

About the Author

Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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