An Episcopalian Priest recently offered these words in a morning message. “We must learn how to both kneel and stand at the same time.” I can’t shake that image, nor the implications. To kneel in the presence of someone is to show respect, loyalty, and perhaps servitude. In contrast, to stand before someone is to affirm, convey, and perhaps communicate our own treasured beliefs or values. When juxtaposed in the same phrase the words seem to be in conflict. It is as though to both kneel and stand is an impossibility. But rightly understood, they illustrate the tension deep within us, a tension in which our faith must reside.
In the Christ-like humility of faith, we must learn to kneel in the presence of others. To do so is to value, affirm, accept, and even befriend. It is to show a level of respect and a sense of wonder at the made-in-the-image-of-God human being who stands before us. It is to affirm the worth of that person and give away something of our own selfish pride that would make them seem less than equal in our minds’ distortion. It is to see the face of God in their face and thus kneel in the presence of the holy.
In contrast, as we stand in the presence of others, we do so while affirming our beliefs… the things we know to be right and good, noble and true. We stand on our convictions, our well-worn affirmations of faith, our principles, our values, our sacred confessions. We stand on the bedrock foundations that give us meaning, clarity, and promise. Those foundations are vital. The tension arises within us when we are called to kneel in the presence of others whose values, beliefs, and morals are not those we uphold. It is not that we are called to step away from the moorings of our faith, but that we use our faith to push ourselves forward into the Kingdom’s difficult work of grace. What is created in that moment of conflicting emotion and thought is not compromise, but rather the mercy that we should long to both extend as well as receive.
If we believe that everyone has to stand in the same mental, political, and spiritual space we occupy in order to be deemed worthy, then we will never learn to kneel in humility. What we must affirm in the presence of others is not our well-parsed theology or doctrinal convictions, but simply the common bonds of humanity that join us to each other. We affirm the love of God for us all. In kneeling, we must acknowledge with value and worth not only the face of the stranger, but the face of God also reflected in that person. We are bound together as His children.
In kneeling we learn that we no longer have the right to judge, but only to serve. We no longer have the right to condemn, but only to accept. We learn that the convictions on which we stand give us the freedom, not to remain selfish, or bigoted, or biased, but to be fully conformed in the image of the One who taught us that to serve is the way of our faith. It is in the giving away of ourselves, that our locked knees suddenly bend in gratitude. And maybe as we kneel in an affirming posture of respect and acceptance that our faith longs for us to embrace, that someone might see over our shoulder to catch a glimpse of the Savior we proclaim. We must indeed learn to kneel and stand at the same time.
– Jon Roebuck