Each one of our seminary worship classes, we began with prayer and a hymn. Yet, one of those days as the professor said the familiar words of "let us pray", he did not continue with the prayer. Instead he had us stop and pay attention to what we did as we heard that opening request. Like our days back in Sunday school, most of us bowed our heads, closed our eyes and clasped out hands together.
I've always suspected that some imaginative Sunday school teacher years ago came up with this posture of prayer for squirmy children - takes away all the distractions even its just for a brief moment.
For me, I don't remember ever "learning" this prayer posture. It has always been a part of prayer - folded hands, closed eyes and bowed head. This is how it is "supposed" to be done and it has been passed along for generations.
My seminary professor began the challenge about the postures not just in prayer, but in the ways in which we were to lead worship. We don't make those gestures because we are supposed to, but because they engage us physically in our relationship with and worship of God.
Through a variety of retreats, spiritual direction sessions and other resources, I found my hands opening up, no longer clasped in front of me. I was engaged by the image of the begging bowl. It is said that these bowls were often employed by both early Franciscan and Buddhist monks to receive either alms or food for each day. They relied on these gifts of charity in order to survive, trusting always in the goodness of those that they encountered. In prayer, I will often cup my hands like a bowl, seeking the wealth of God's grace and love to sustain me daily. It is a posture of reception.
Other physical postures of prayer include raising one's hands in praise towards God, kneeling in confession and supplication, laying down on the floor in submitting oneself fully to God and more. These and many other physical gestures - small and large - engage our whole selves in the act of prayer. These postures take prayer out of our heads and issue it forth with more than words from our lips.
A labyrinth moves our feet in prayer. As we circle closer and farther away from the center, we see and experience the paths that our daily lives take in relationship with God. The one that we are blessed to have here at Trinity is marked by scripture that guides our way and draws us closer in relationship with God.
For many of us,. as Lutherans, prayer often remains in our heads or in the words that are spoken by others. Prayer is contained and controlled. It begins a part of our inner life but isn't always revealed in our outer countenance.
Being formed in prayer invites us outside of ourselves and even our own comfort zones. Think about the words that you use in prayer - what kind of gesture or posture does it elicit? How might raising your hands or keeping your eyes open when you pray change your prayer?
Let me know what you try or if you think of other ways in which you pray with your whole self.
p.s. This Sunday (Nov. 3rd, 6-8pm) during our Affirmation (Confirmation) Theme Event, we will be talking about and experiencing different ways to pray. Rather than just talking about prayer, we will be using different ways to pray - such as the labyrinth and more - to experience prayer in our daily lives. We are inviting anyone who would like to participate to come!