In short – a calm listener sitting is open to newness.
You can sit in various ways. The word can even have other connotations such as the House of Commons working, who the judge is in court, etc. 😉. With legs bent, crossed or splayed out. With a straight back or leaning back. All these ways of sitting have one thing in common, the weight of the body is mainly on the buttocks. Oh, it’s just everyday life, we hardly think about it. Could it have some meaning other than a practical one – that it’s more comfortable than standing? The problem with this is that each body posture, every gesture, communicates or expresses something. Often more than words. Sometimes it even tells the lie of what is said verbally. Each posture of the body also suggests one or another internal disposition. So, it’s worth noticing all this.
Does it show a lack of respect to sit? Maybe it can. But usually it means “I’m at ease”. Whether it’s waiting for things to unfold, or it’s listening, or working. Or, like fans at Wimbledon, at a stadium for football or cricket. They have places available for them to sit, and when there’s not much happening on the court/pitch they sit. When emotions begin to rise, they get up. Either briefly when there’s some action in front of the goal or longer when the result of the match is in jeopardy and emotions prevent them sitting still. Because sitting and strong emotions don’t go together. The body almost automatically responds to what is going on in the head, and the heart demands you stand up.
Or when having a row. Sitting down in a row almost always means a reduction in emotional tension. When an argument breaks out with the adversaries sitting, it begins to wear them down and they try to get up. Perhaps it is guests invited to a television “discussion”, who know it’s not the done thing to stand up. Then emotions are expressed with grater gesticulations. Because a sitting position and a heated argument are difficult to reconcile with one another.
So, to sit first of all means to be at ease, calm. At least a degree of calmness. It is to relax but to be ready to concentrate on the demands of a task. In this case, to listen. Therefore, it also means being prepared for new ideas, to revise our own views, for dialogue. It’s not even by adopting such a posture that we are consciously aware this is what we want to express. It just is. Intuitively, this is how the sitting posture is interpreted. By us and by others. It is also so in the tradition of the Bible. It’s taken advantage of by some teachers: standing when they want the class to calm down and then sitting when they are calmed and so wanting them to feel they aren’t threatened by the attention of the teacher and to concentrate on the lesson’s work.
And, so, we also have to look at sitting as a posture indicating prayer. It is not (or not necessarily) a sign of disregard for holiness. It is assuming an attitude of calm, putting aside everyday problems, like Samuel in the Bible, we declare “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. We open ourselves to God, to what He proposes, to be ready calmly, without agitation, to absorb and digest.
It may be an insignificance, but in the Gospels Jesus teaches quite often . . . . . while sitting. Yes, sitting. For example, when giving the Sermon on the Mount. It isn’t necessarily an allusion to the cathedra, or the throne, from which the occupant speaks seated. Rather, it seems as if Jesus didn’t want the listeners of His demanding teaching to feel it was an act of aggression toward them. But so that they felt at ease and in this way could more easily focus on what Jesus was saying, and not on what His emotions were.
Perhaps the most beautiful Gospel scene, in which the listeners of Jesus were seated, is the multiplication of the loaves. Characteristic: the evangelists emphasise that Jesus told the crowds to sit down (actually, to recline). A great miracle was happening, and they were to show their emotions, they were to be occupied – how ever prosaic it is – with eating and, sitting, thanking God for this extraordinary gift. So, to sit before God, is to be at ease before Him; it is to be ready to listen, prepared for new reflection. And so thus we should experience our time of prayer – both individual and during the liturgy – when we sit. Here I am before God, nothing threatens me, I am ready to listen to Him carefully. My heart filled with peace, I am fortunate.