We are one in body mind and spirit, and prayer is not confined to our minds and hearts. It is expressed by our bodies as well. When our bodies are engaged in prayer, we are praying with our whole person. Using our entire being in prayer helps us to pray with greater attentiveness. The condition, position, and actions of our body play an important part in our spiritual life.
Although we may not think about it, we use several different body positions in our worship services to help us connect with God. We stand to sing and to say some prayers; we kneel to confess and to pray personal prayers; we sit to listen to Scripture and sermons; some genuflect before the altar; some make a sign of the cross at certain points in the worship service; and some raise their hands in praise. All of these actions are examples of using our bodies in prayer.
In thinking about our individual personal prayer we often ignore the importance of our body. Teachers of meditation practices stress the importance of body position in prayer, particularly to aid in being still before God. But being still is not always the best way. In one meditation practice that I have used, after arranging people to sit in a circle close to each other, participants sequentially assume the following hand positions to guide them through their prayers.
Clenched Fists: Bringing to mind the anger, frustrations, and disappointments in life;
Praying Hands: Opening up and connecting to God;
Open Hands: Letting go and listening to God; and
Join Hands: Joining our spirits with others in carrying out what God wishes for us.
This is one way of using our body in prayer.
Julian of Norwich experienced severe bodily pain when she was thirty years old. It was during her illness that she received visions, which she later recorded in Revelations of Divine Love. Regardless of whether we are experiencing physical suffering, when we welcome and witness our body’s sensations with openness, we are also open to the presence of God in a way that pushes our busy minds out of the way. Julian wrote, “The fruit and the purpose of prayer is to be oned with God in all things.” In a Body Prayer that comes from the motto of the Order of Julian of Norwich, you take a few minutes to let your heart and mind’s attention sink deeper into your body, to remember your inherent oneness, through these simple words, postures, and intentions.
AWAIT (hands at waist, cupped up to receive): Await God’s presence, not as you expect, hope, or imagine, but just as it is in this moment.
ALLOW (reach up, hands open): Allow a sense of God’s presence (or not) to come and be what it is, without meeting your expectations.
ACCEPT (hands at heart, cupped towards body): Accept as a gift whatever comes or does not come. Accept that you are not in charge. Accept the infinity of God’s presence, whether or not you are aware.
ATTEND (hands outstretched, ready to be responsive): In this stance of openness, attend to the action(s) that God invites you to take.
These actions are shown on a You Tube video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iImZilFvOE.
Another way of using the body in prayer, and one that would appeal to children of all ages, is the use of body actions when reciting the Lord’s Prayer. There are several versions of this. One of which can be found at: http://www.messychurch.org.uk/resource/lords-prayer-actions. Another way of involving children in prayer using parts of the body is the Five Finger Prayer, the details of which can be found at: http://ministry-to-children.com/five-finger-prayer.
Prayer while walking or running involves our whole body in prayer. In another article in this series I write about the usefulness of “Prayer Walking”, which can be a wonderful gift for those who like to get up and move around while intentionally communicating with God. Prayer Walking can be done in any location at any time, sometimes alone, or with a group. It includes, but is not restricted to, traditional practices such as: making a pilgrimage; walking the Stations of the Cross; and walking a labyrinth.