Should we bow more when we pray?

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April 4/Fourth Thursday of Lent

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They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. ~ Ps 106:19-20

We don’t bow down much these days, do we? Outside of the images of faithful Muslims kneeling for daily prayer and candidates for ordination prostrating themselves before the altar, there isn’t much literal self-abasement in our lives. Indeed, embedded as we are in a culture of individual achievement and self-actualization, we take great pride in our own agency, bragging to ourselves that we don’t bow down to anyone or anything. But all of us, except for the most thoroughgoing nihilists, are subordinate to some desire or ambition. The desiderata, or things desired or needed, may be a job, a relationship, alcohol, intellectual superiority or material goods, but it is the rare person who doesn’t pay homage of some kind to a “cast image.” Even for those of us who believe and who have ample evidence of God’s blessings in our lives—and the ancient Israelites, newly rescued from slavery and on the way to a promised land, certainly would qualify—God’s way is not always easy. Nor does his plan for us always align with our own wishes.

And so—like our distrustful, impatient spiritual forebears—we cast aside the God who was and is and is to be, and we set our eyes on the shiny, alluring idols that we ourselves have fashioned. Sooner or later, though, those deified desires fall away; the grass-eating ox is short-lived and vastly inferior to the ineffable glory of the immortal God. In biblical Hebrew, the verb for “worship” also means “bow down.” If we truly want to be disciples of God, we must subjugate our proud selves to his will and bow down in obedience.

Almighty God, help me to worship wisely and well, and to set my eyes on your glory. Amen.

For today’s readings, click here.

To hear the King’s College (Cambridge) choir sing “O Worship the King, all glorious above,” click here.

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Christopher Minch
3 months 2 weeks ago

I think a firm intent and daily regular prayer times (morning & night but other times too). I start with making the Sign of the Cross (usually your head automatically bows when you raise your hand to your head) and then I pray, "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on me a sinner" (sometimes beating my chest) is a great reminder to me of who I am, my creatureliness and a call for God's help and care in my life.

Phil Lawless
3 months 2 weeks ago

I don't bow much at Mass because my knees hurt and distract me. But I also have incorporated the lesson of the Incarnation, that all human beings have been equalized with God. That is why as a Eucharistic minister that I give a slight bow to each recipient.

We all have to understand our relationship with God who loves us. Sometimes, it means sorrow for being sinful. Sometimes iMessage, it means accepting His gift and being as Godlike as possible.

John Hess
3 months 2 weeks ago

Just as a matter of curiosity, do people, not on purpose but only as a kind of reflex, slightly bow in return?

Robert Klahn
3 months 2 weeks ago

Somehow this seems to be a claim of superiority, as in, "I am more humble than you are."

Maybe we should look up and see all that is above us instead, or all that is around us, knowing we are part of that.

Bruce Snowden
3 months 2 weeks ago

When I was a boy and to this day as an old man of 87, I always bow making the Sign of the Cross, uttering the Asperation, “Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament I adore You!” when passing a Catholic Church. A Cross on the steeple of a distant Church elicits the same response. In recent years I have also extended my reverence to Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic Places of Worship, recognizing that in these edifices the Holy Name and Word of God are honored and proclaimed, saying as I pass by, “Blessed be the Name and Word of God!” Also in profound reverence wherever I hear the Name of God mentioned I bow by head respectfully saying, “May God be Blessed!” My weak heart pumping blood at 30/35 percent, not the normal 70 percent, beats a bit faster as God-filled thoughts come to mind! I can happily say, I am a man of many bows, from childhood forward!

[Editors’ note: This is part of a daily Lenten reflection series. Sign up for our America Today newsletter to receive each reflection every day in your inbox.]

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