I noticed an example of this at a singing recently. The chorus of a particular song says, “And I stand, I stand in awe of you.” When we got to the “stand” part…you guessed it…we stood. I have been in many congregational, group and retreat settings in which people traditionally stand when we get to that part of the song. Do we stand “in awe” at that point or do we stand because the song says “I stand”? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? But, something happened later that sets this in bold relief. We sang a song that had the words, “I bend my knees in praise…” and “I raise my hands to you”. The second song called for bodily expression – just like standing in the song a few minutes earlier – but…we sat still. There was no “bending of knees” and no “raising of hands.” Our comfort zone (familiarity zone, conditioning, practice) has allowed for – even encouraged – standing as THE appropriate expression.
Bending and raising are just as plain linguistically, but our social norms have conditioned us to put a premium on standing. Why do we defer to one action and exclude the others? Plainly, we are more comfortable with the one action than we are with the other two. I suppose at stake here is what we are actually doing in song. Are we singing out of nostalgia and a herd mentality or have we truly chosen to give physical expression to what is in our hearts? Bending and raising can be dismissed as strange and perhaps “showy.” Of greater concern here is how traditionalism has affected how we think about what we are “actually” doing when we are singing. And…that’s just one example.