By Vinita, based on Praying the Way Jesus Prayed
I once lived in a house that had at its center a long hallway. Every room of the house could be accessed by that hallway, and every access had a door. This meant that, if I closed all the doors, I had a long, enclosed space. And many days, that was where I prayed, pacing the length of the hall, back and forth, praying out loud. I lived alone, so at any time I could close all the doors, start pacing, and pray. I could sing or cry or whisper or simply speak. In terms of how prayer felt to me, the year of living in that house was one of my most powerful seasons of prayer.
So much of prayer is about getting around our own defenses—our hesitations toward God, our fear of the truth, our ambivalence about change of any kind. So it’s no surprise that we have so many different reactions to modes to prayer. For some of us, getting physical with prayer is difficult. In Western culture especially, we tend to approach faith head-first. We like to think through things, understand spiritual concepts, figure out what is happening to us and within us. It can be a challenge to remember that we are bodies as well as spirits, even more of a challenge to involve our bodies in spiritual activity such as prayer.
During prayer we might resist bowing, kneeling, lying face-down, or raising our arms because it’s more comfortable to keep prayer in the realm of spirit. We’ll recite prayers, read prayers, even journal prayers, but kneeling on the hard floor—what’s that about? And doesn’t it feel a bit fanatical to raise my arms?
Do I really have to bring spiritual reality into the gritty physical life—life that includes achy joints, tired eyes, intestinal problems, bad hair, and a body that I don’t really want to draw attention to anyway? Even in private prayer I feel so self-conscious when I try to be physical—why the discomfort with my physical self? Do I see the beauty and sacred character of this creation that is me?
The fact is, we are whole people, souls-and-bodies, not divided into physical and spiritual. And what we express with our bodies carries into how we experience prayer or anything else. So it’s a good practice to experiment with various physical postures and activities when we pray. Kneeling or pacing or sitting or standing; clasping hands or turning them upward, palms open; closing eyes or focusing on a candle or crucifix—all such practices limber us up both physically and spiritually.
During your prayer this week, try a physical posture or practice that is new or uncommon for you.