Monday, February 6, 2012

Raising the Roof

Over this past Christmas break, I attended CCO's annual Conference entitled Rise Up, which took place this year in Vancouver, BC. From Dec. 28th to Jan. 1st, almost 600 young adults from across Canada listened to inspirational talks, took part in powerful prayer, and learned how to be better witnesses to the world. All this was done with the intercession of Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose legacy gave the theme for this year's conference.

How fitting though, that the conference was themed after the writings and pontificate of Blessed JP II. Because one of the late pope's most influential pieces of writing for young adults today is his Theology of the Body, and it seems like I have been constantly reminded of the truths that Blessed JP II reminds us of in that work (especially in the last few months). One of those basic truths - one that the Church has defended since her conception - is that only by the union of soul and body are we given the single nature of human being. And so it pains me when Catholics think otherwise. It pains me when they throw truth, faith, and common sense to the wind, and instead irrationally use their emotions to justify a position. Because at Rise Up this year, there was one thing I heard about from many people that just did not sit right with them: people raising their hands during praise & worship.

WYD 2011 Madrid: Life Teen XLT

"It's sooo showy."

"Why can't they just put their palms together in front of them?"

"No. I just. No. I don't like it. It's weird." (Yes, someone actually said this to me in rebuttal. Needless to say, it was not effective). 

The raising of hands during praise & worship is something common within CCO, a movement that is faithful to the Holy See. The university student movement has been given a shout-out by the late Pope John Paul II as being a blessed and fruitful movement within the Church. So right there, perhaps there is something more to all the hand-raising than it just "feeling weird." And it's not like the raising of hands is a new thing invented by CCO, or even by some Catholics in the 60s during the Charismatic Renewal. Raising one's hands is actually one of the oldest postures used in prayer. Called the orans position, it is used to recognize the Lord as external and transcendent. Just pay attention to the priest during the Eucharistic prayer in Mass.

But more importantly, we need to keep in mind what Blessed JP II told us: the soul is manifested in the body; the soul is the form of the body - the two are inseparable. They're like the inside and outside of a balloon. Take away the outside of the balloon, and you take away the balloon. If someone, praying to Christ through music with almost 600 other people (like at Rise Up), suddenly raises his or her arms in praise, it is just an expression of what is going on inside them. So to anyone who has ever waved their hands at the whims of a musician at a concert, and thinks that raising hands to praise God during praise & worship is objectively stupid, then it would at least be more biblical if you instead raised your hands in front of this:
Because these outward, seemingly extravagant gestures towards Heaven aren't objectively stupid or proud. Posture has a purpose. We, as bodies, have a purpose - and we respond with purpose. But these gestures can be subjectively uncomfortable or showy. Heck, I think they're uncomfortable. Emotions obviously affect the way we act and respond - both spiritually and physically. These emotions during praise & worship music sessions can be very intense. The person responds with their whole being, and this manifests itself differently for everyone. I didn't find the song choice at Rise Up particularly good, and so I found it hard to get emotionally invested in the music or the words (a lot of Christian music just sounds bland anyways - another blog post coming up). But a person can feel emotionally moved. And they can stand there, eyes closed, with their hands clasped in front of them. A person could feel emotionally moved as to cry tears of joy, of thanksgiving, of gratitude. Or they can stretch out their arms, seemingly trying to reach Heaven with their grasp.

Look at that hand-raising on the left. What a Bad Catholic
(like Marc Barnes NEEDS me to get his blog more hits...)

When you look at a person with palms up during praise & worship and think of them as "showy," a couple different things may be happening: either the person is actually being genuine, and you need to stop your whining, or the person is being showy, and you don't get to judge them anyways. My point is, people respond differently to heightened emotions, and this includes emotions relating to God. Don't bash the actions themselves. In fact...try it, in the privacy of your room. The next time you pray, raise your arms and tilt your head skyward - then say the Our Father. I bet it will make a difference in your prayer - we are a body.

A part of me can't help but think that in some way, those people who "give in" to these different postures during praise & worship have a good point to make. They, like everyone else involved in these events, truly believe that The Trinity is present in our daily lives. They believe that The Holy Spirit lives in them, and is moving them towards a personal relationship with Christ, so that they may enter into the House of the Father. Even though now, we see things "in a mirror, dimly" (1 Cor. 13:12), the truth is that God is among us. And when Christ returns at the Second Coming, He will radiate love, justice, mercy, and peace, and those on earth will be in complete wonder and awe at how amazing He is. They will have no choice but to fall down and worship - it will be that overwhelming. As St. Paul tells us, even "at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend" (Phil. 2:10). But some people in CCO do that now. They fall to their knees, they raise their hands, they sing. Maybe they're just ahead of the game.

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