Have you ever visited a church where after the band started playing, and the lights were dimmed, you found yourself surrounded by a bunch of people swaying with their eyes closed, waving their arms in the air? You are not alone. This bizarre and apparently inexplicable behaviour is one of the many ways I used to diagnose religious weirdos. But why is it that people engage in this strange display of arm waving? Join me as I explore a range of contexts where it would be considered normal to use that same kind of gesture.
Case 1: You’re having a pretty good day so far. The guys behind the counter have seen your balaclava and your gun, and have sensibly chosen to put their hands up. That’s good, because you would have shot them otherwise. This gesture is a sign of surrender. It also shows that they’re not trying anything on where you can’t see. It was a real hassle on your last job, when someone pressed the alarm button. So the gesture also shows helplessness: they are unarmed, and at your mercy.
Case 2: You don’t know who designed the shelves in your parents’ study. They’re about at your head height, just low enough that you don’t need to stand on a chair, but high enough that you have to lift your arms above your head to get things down. This makes it a real pain when something’s hard to find, ’cause your arms get sore after a while. In this case, lifting your arms is to reach for something- often something out of your sight.
Similarly, consider when you grope for the light switch in the dark. You cannot see it, so you resort to trying to feel your way. If someone was quietly trying to find you in that dark space, you would only know it by their touch. Maybe blind man’s bluff is a better example.
Case 3: One of your favourite people skips up to you wearing a cheeky grin. She’s got her arms behind their back. She says “close your eyes and hold out your hands”. Your obedience in this is speedily rewarded with a small trinket you’ve been drooling over. Here holding out your hands is your way of accepting a gift she wants to give you.
Case 4: You’re hanging out with your wife and daughter today. The little one isn’t quite speaking yet, but she has ways of making her wants known. When you come into the room she motions with her arms “up”. It’s hard to tell if she is happy to see you and wants a hug, or is happy to use you to escape her high chair.
Case 5: There’s some good music playing, and no-one’s around to see you. You dance around and around, with your arms up, just like you’re at a rock concert. Dancing like this is fun!
Case 6: You just one a race. As you ran through over the finish line, you raised your arms ahead in victory!
Case 7: You’re trying on clothes with your sisters, and your younger sister gets stuck in a jersey that’s too small! She waves her arms around wildly as you wrestle it off her, over her head. The bible extensively uses changing clothes as a metaphor for being transformed into a different kind of person, and for being in right standing with God. Isaiah 61: 3; Galatians 3:27; Revelation 3:4-5…
“a crown of beauty instead of ashes, …, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”-Isaiah 61:3
Thus, it’s possible that in those awkward church scenarios, when you’re surrounded by christians lifting their arms, that they’re doing any number of these things. They could be surrendering to God, and reflecting on his mercy. They could be reaching for God because they can’t see him. Maybe they long for his touch, or want to accept the gifts God is holding out. Maybe they long for God’s embrace, as a child wants her father’s comforting embrace. Or maybe they just want his help to escape unpleasant circumstances. Maybe they want to enjoy dancing with him. It’s possible that they are glorying in the Lord’s victory… or maybe they want to be transformed by God, and realise they can’t get out of the clothes they’re stuck in without his help.
For me personally, I dance with Jesus. I hug my heavenly Father. I reach out to the Holy Spirit because I can’t see him.
(Thanks to http://www.strangenotions.com for their kind, involuntary donation of the picture).