There was a time at Church during which my parents would ask me to kneel, regardless of what everyone else was doing around me.
If you are Catholic, you can probably guess right about when.
For those of you that aren’t, I’ll give you a hint. Consecration. The high point of the Mass during which bread and wine is turned into the Body and Blood of Christ. Pretty intense stuff. For the faithful, this moment is worthy of the greatest adoration. All “good” Catholics kneel, or so I was told. For that reason it came as somewhat of a surprise to me when I found out that some congregations actually chose to stand. Of all the irreverent atrocities! Little did I know that it was up to the parish to decide how best to worship together in solidarity. It was more of a question of unity rather than form. Nevertheless, my family, along with many others, chose to kneel. We would kneel amidst crowds of standers, even if there was nothing to rest our folded legs on but the cold, hard, bumpy tile ground. Why? Because, to be completely honest, kneeling is more reverent.
It conveys a sense of gravity and withdrawal that standing simply does not.
As human beings, we have a body that is capable of physical expression. We can use form to communicate meaning. Standing for me, is representative of attention, respect, and a willingness to cooperate. When done together with others, it goes on to represent oneness, solidarity, and strength by virtue of its uniformity. Kneeling is something of a more humble pose. It represents reverence, meekness, and a sense of servile solitude. It seeks to ask of something and is deferential to the plight of others, which is why, I think, most prayer is done in this position.
What then of this whole Kaepernick situation?
He is kneeling when others are not during a time that is felt to be of utmost honor and veneration for faithful Americans. It’s a kind of church of its own with a congregation that has gathered to celebrate the great, hallowed sport of American football – only to be interrupted by a dark figure, kneeling quietly during the National Anthem. This highly revered song that has come to represent the nation itself. And he, Colin Kaepernick, is kneeling throughout the entirety of it. Wow.
Isn’t he doing what it is that all “good” Americans should be doing?
From where I’m standing, it seems like he is taking things a step farther and not only respecting the flag, but revering it. He is asking, praying for a nation that can hold itself to its own ideals of truth, justice, and freedom whereas others are simply giving it the respect and attention that it deserves, no more, no less. Both work within the context of the person making the action. We are a country of individuals, so why is it that we expect everyone to pay their due homage in the exact same way? It took me awhile to realize that as a teenager in the pews, casting judgement upon all those that did not do as I did and pay their respects (in my case, to God) in the same way that I paid mine. Only later did I come to apprehend the damage I was in fact, doing to myself. So focused was I on the practice of others that my attention was no longer on that which was most important. The object of my devotion served only as a bystander in the fight for orthodoxy. I no longer thought about anyone, or anything, but myself, what I thought, what I did, what I thought, what I did, and how I did it.
How is it that I expect to be seen and understood when I myself cannot see or understand?
In a poignant Presidential Town Hall, Obama says (and I paraphrase), “the only way we can make American Democracy work is by seeing each other, listening to each other, trying to be respectful of each other, and not just going into our separate corners.” There was a point at which I decided to stop kneeling and started standing, if for nothing else to step out of myself and take on a different point of view. And guess what? I didn’t die. No lightning came down from the sky to strike me. It was an eye-opening experience, acting in direct opposition to my ego and yet, here I am still holding myself upright, gazing … O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. Words that fall so easily from the lips but, in action, looks like a black man out on one knee in front of thousands of angry onlookers. We are part and parcel of how we choose to engage with the world around us. So let us do so with some compassion, recognizing that how we see and understand things may not be the same as how someone else does, and that getting angry over how our neighbor isn’t doing what it is that we are doing is not so indicative of him or her, but of ourselves and our own need to criticize.