Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Postures in Prayer

What I'm writing here sounds so simple... but if we think precisely and seriously about it, I think we can be touched in a quite wonderful way.

Prayer is both contemplative (mind) & active (body).
If we get a good hold on this simple concept, we will be well on our way to a revitalized life of prayer.

If the mind is working alone in prayer, distraction and weariness set in quickly.
When you engage the body (through a physical posture of prayer or through a physical object that anchors you like beads or a picture or an object, for example) the mind endures much longer in it's pursuit of prayer. (Yoga is the extreme example of this... the idea being, if you can meditate standing on your head then imagine how well you will be able to meditate sitting comfortable on your bum!) 

I don't know of any strong contemplative traditions (in any religion) that exists without a set of recommendations for how to engage the body.

In my experience, Protestants tend to be squeamish about engaging the body in prayer. (After all, Jesus said, "When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get." (Mat 6:5)  
"Bow your head and close your eyes" was once a well-accepted posture, but I have seen even this--in modern protestant churches--being shied away from. It is seen as possibly being "just for show" and therefore avoided.
The concept of personal freedom---"what's right for me"---has so penetrated our church culture that modern Christians are commonly uncomfortable employing their bodies in a discipline of submission unless they feel "stirred" by some strong spirit to do so. Therefore, they miss the benefits of simple disciplined prayer while waiting for the hurricane.

I think it is fundamental that we get away from the idea that postures of prayer are "just for show." Where the body leads, the mind will follow. (This has been repeatedly documented by science. See here. And here.)  It may also stand to reason, based on what we know of neuroplasticity, that when the mind is weak in one area it can be strengthened by engaging the body to aid the mind.

So what does this mean for a practice of prayer?

That postures of prayer should see a revival. 
Some traditions bow, some kneel, some sit cross-legged.  Some clasp their hands, some place palms together, some place palms in the lap or on the knees facing up, some spread & raise the hands open... the list could go on and on. 
You can even make your prayer posture mobile. (Watch these for examples: Jewish Prayer, Orthodox Prayer Postures/Prostrations)

Why not try some of these out? 
See how God may use a step of faith taken with your body. 

I'm going to give it shot in a more intentional way through the week.

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