Body language (non-verbal communication) is said to make up 55% of communication; it often speaks louder than words. Our body language communicates far more than we realise. When we are hurried and harassed, we tend to continue doing things and avoid eye contact with the person speaking to us, telling them that we are too busy for them and communicating to them a sense that they don’t really matter to us. When we are ashamed or feel guilty with someone, our posture usually becomes shrunken (hunched shoulders, head down) and again, eye contact is avoided lest the other person sees our true feelings reflected in our eyes (‘the mirrors of the soul’). When we are glad to see someone, our eyes light up and our arms are opened wide in a welcoming hug, communicating gladness and welcome, worth and value.
In the recent performance of ‘Fisherman’s Tail’, the actor playing Simon Peter used body language to great effect to communicate Simon’s feelings. When Simon first encounters Jesus’ miraculous powers and he recognises his own sinfulness and Jesus’ greatness, Simon fell face-down before Jesus, communicating his smallness in the face of God’s greatness. In the scenes depicting Simon’s denial of Jesus, his avoidance of eye contact with his interlocutors and his huddled posture confirmed his unease and divided loyalties. When Simon recognised Jesus on the shore after the resurrection, he ran to him with outstretched arms shouting ‘Jesus!’ and enveloping him in a bear hug. In the scene after the resurrection when Jesus asks him three times ‘Do you love me?’, his posture was studied indifference: eyes fixed on his fingernails, avoiding looking at Jesus because he feared rejection at first, only on the third question raising his eyes to look directly at Jesus and finding in His eyes not rejection but acceptance and forgiveness.
Our body language is more innate and unconscious than our words. I’m just seeing the first smiles from my youngest granddaughter at three months old as she learns to mirror the expressions around her; it will be many more months before she learn to speak. Similarly, our body language cannot really hide our true feelings, whatever our words say. The author Jeffrey Deaver has had huge success with his investigator Kathryn Dance, an expert in kinesics (the study of the way in which certain body movements and gestures serve as a form of non-verbal communication.) precisely because she can interpret what is not said as effectively as what is!
Worship involves the whole body as well as our words. We bow down in awe before God, like Simon Peter, to indicate our unworthiness and His greatness:
We lift our hands hight to God to indicate our openness to His greatness:
We hold our hands out to Him to indicate our willingness to empty ourselves to receive from Him.
We clap to indicate our approval of His magnificent deeds; we dance in His presence as joy grips our heart.
Hunched, indifferent, unresponsive worship communicates a lack of respect and a lack of awe. We need our body language to match our words and thus we become whole people.