WE CAN PRAY WITH OUR BODIES
When we humbly kneel or stand with arms extended in praise we are praying with our bodies. Mind prayers are likely more familiar, the comforting words or special scripture verses we love. Spirit prayer is praying without words or thoughts, such as contemplation or Centering Prayer, which is briefly described here. We will focus on praying with our bodies, which Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP describes as “relating to God both in and through our bodies.”
Let me give you two examples of body prayer. The first is yoga, or what Ryan calls a New Christian Yoga. The second is my own version of a simple body prayer.
Ryan describes why our embodied nature is important for us as Christians. Jesus had a real body which after death He re-embraced in the resurrection. Catholics believe Mary was assumed with her body to heaven. Christian tradition holds that we will have our bodies in heaven. Ryan says “So it only makes sense to learn how to relate to God now both in and through our bodies.” He recommends and describes a simple yoga-like embodied “Prayer of Heart and Body,” a perfect morning prayer to embrace the gift of each new day. See link for full description.
Years ago I made up this prayer: “Dear God, help me today to stand up tall, smile and listen.” I felt good when I said this prayer and decided God was listening. But it was only with the passage of time that I realized the full value of the prayer. Researchers have demonstrated how physical acts influence the mind. Strong postures, so-called “power poses,” have been shown to enhance confidence and positivity. A smile, the second part of the prayer, not only makes the recipient(s) feel better, it makes the smiler feel better, even when the smile is planned rather than spontaneous. The scientific literature contains extensive research on the benefits of a smile. Listening, the most challenging part of my prayer, also requires the body to act: to cease all distracting activities; to keep the eyes closed or gazing at something peaceful when listening to God; or focused on the person to whom we are listening.
Even if we disregard the science, I suspect that all of us recognize that we feel better when we stand up tall, hold our shoulders back, gaze slightly upwards, and smile— compared to how we feel when we sit, slouch forward, look down, and frown. Now when I say the words, I do the actions: “Dear God, help me today to stand up tall, smile and listen.” My whole self, mind-body-spirit, feels stronger and more positive as I offer my prayer and myself to God.
1. Review Fr. Ryan’s body prayer. Commit to doing this 30 second prayer each day for one week and see what you think.
2. Try my Stand, Smile and Listen prayer, or make up your own body prayer. When any form of prayer seems to draw you, write about it in your journal and make a concerted effort to try it regularly.
3. Follow up: Did you decide to make a commitment to pray for a defined number of minutes a day? How did that work for you? Did you try counting your daily servings of fruits and vegetables? Remember that five servings of fruits and vegetables is a minimum. We talked about setting specific goals in my blog of Feb. 2, 2017. We all need this type of specific commitment followed by a regular reassessment. “I will eat more fruits and vegetables” or “I will pray more” just doesn’t work for us. Whatever you do, don't get more stressed worrying about all these suggestions. Just do your best and pray to God for help.
I’d love to hear any feedback from you. Most importantly, may each of you have a glorious Easter. God bless. Donna
A song of ascents. O come, bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord, You who stand in
the house of the Lord throughout the nights.
Lift up your hands toward the sanctuary,
and bless the Lord. Psalm 134:1-2
REFERENCES: Fr. Thomas Ryan CSP Blog: bustedhalo.com/googling-god/how-to-pray/pray-with-your-body or his book Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice, Paulist Press, 2001
https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are. Also, Preparatory power posing affects nonverbal presence and job interview performance. AJC Cuddy, CA Wilmuth, AJ Yap, Journal of Applied Psychology, 2015
huffingtonpost.com The Blog, 11/21/2015, updated 11/21/2016, The Science of Smiling, by Andrew Merle, an easy-to-read summary