Practicing Embodied Prayer
Prayer is more than a mental exercise. It’s physical too. I want to encourage you to embody times of prayer. Let’s consider our postures when we pray.
We know prayer is spiritual, but we should also understand the physical side of prayer. Spirituality doesn’t ignore physicality. As new creations in Christ, we are learning how to pray. We teach people about supplication, intercession, and prayers of thanksgiving. There is another how to our prayers that is overlooked. Kneeling, arms stretched out, lying face down, eyes looking upward, or hands cupped like we are ready to catch the rain. We need to spend time and attention to how we embody our prayers. Our posture preaches.
In many ways, we are already attempting to get our physical posture aligned with our spiritual posture. This isn’t totally foreign to most of us.
In times of prayer, we bow our heads in honor, sincerity, and attention. We close our eyes to signify our singularity of focus—we are talking to God right now. Pre-Covid, remember when we Christians would join hands and pray? I used to think it was a silly thing to do. It’s not. What are we communicating when we circle up, clasp hands, pray, and then squeeze them when we hear the amen? We are preaching our unity to one another. A demonstration of the physical harmonizing with the spiritual. And this is true spirituality—the interior matching the exterior. Talking with God is an action of heart, soul, mind, and strength. It takes a whole person to pray.
For some, this may seem like an overreach or super-spiritual showboating. And it may be that for some people. Ignore them. It doesn’t have to be that for you. There are already areas of our lives where we communicate a message with habituated physical acts. During the national anthem, we stand, remove our hats, and maybe even place our hands on our hearts. We don’t even think about it anymore. These practices have become disciplines in American life. We are trained. Let’s make posture in prayer—kneeling, hands raised, etc.—disciplined practices in the born-again life.
Physicality in Prayer
Whether we see it or not, our bodies are already participating in our prayers. Our brains are processing. Our vocal cords are producing what the brain is putting together. The mouth is cooperating. If we are journaling our prayers, the muscles in our forearms and fingers join in the work of intercession. It really does take the whole person to pray, to be a Christian. Jesus points out how it takes our heart, soul, mind, and strength—effort, body, physicality—to love God throughout our life. Our prayers are no different.
It’s not usual for us followers of Christ to think our prayers are not what they could be, either in fervency or consistency. At times, we think our prayers have about as much pop and punch as a flat Diet Pepsi. Dr. Donald S. Whitney wrote Praying the Bible to help us climb out of the mud of boring prayers and into the exciting language and content of the Bible for our prayers. And part of our discipleship in prayer is recognizing the dynamic between physical and spiritual. The risen Christ removes any downplaying of our bodies when it comes to our spirituality. Our bodies matter. Why? Because he lives.
Postures in Prayer
I hope we will all become more comfortable with aligning, even if only by a notch, the language and posture of our prayers. As you are able, do what you can. We all have varying physical limitations. The Lord knows.
For instance, if you write in your journal, “I kneel before you today,” well, why don’t you go ahead and kneel before the Lord? If you are in a season of desperation before the King, communicate it with your body too. Consider laying on the ground, face in the carpet, letting the tears puddle, and vocalize your desperation to your Father who art in Heaven. If you are praying for God to fill you with joy, consider cupping your hands as you pray, lifting them out in front of your chest and say, “Oh, Lord, fill me. I want to receive the joy of your salvation. Overflow my cup, Holy Spirit.”
Why do this? Scholar Todd Johnson says, and I think he’s right, that “one meaning of the prayer is conveyed by his or her body posture and another by the words prayed.” The content of our prayers is both word and body. Prepositions and posture.
Posture can be manufactured, faked. So can words. The Lord sees you. He knows. But we can also imitate the faith of those before us who let their bodies and hearts work in tandem.
There are many biblical examples of physicality expressing our spirituality.
Kneeling: “Let us kneel before the Lord our God our maker” (Psalm 95:6). Daniel knelt and prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). Jesus prayed on his knees the night he was arrested (Luke 22:41)
Hands raised: “Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument” (1 Timothy 2:8). “So I will bless you as long as I live; at your name, I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:4)
Laying of hands: “They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6)
Location: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Daniel faced Jerusalem as he prayed (Daniel 6:10).
Today, try embodying what is in your heart and mind. Love God with your strength. Take a few moments in the morning, just you and Jesus, Bible in your lap, and put your palms up before him and pray something like, “I’m here to meet with you, Lord, my friend, my God. Lead me today. Counsel me today. I’m looking to you. Amen.” Start where you feel comfortable. Let’s pay attention to how we pray.