No matter how spiritual we are, we cannot ignore our bodies when we pray. Indeed, we pray with and through them, not only with our voice and thoughts. If we are happy, our face expresses it, and our body does, too; if we’re worried, we put our head in our hands. When we meet someone whom we’ve missed, we embrace them and we get close. We don’t just tell them that we’ve missed them. In our encounter with God, it is the same; our postures express something.
The Catechism teaches that we have a need to associate the senses with prayer; we experience the need to externally translate our feelings. “God seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders Him that perfect homage which is His due” (CCC 2703).
This is why it is important to be aware of our position and bodily attitude at the moment of preparing to pray, or while participating in any liturgy. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not about putting on a “prayer face” or having a “prayerful attitude” just for show. Wanting people to see that you’re super spiritual and pious would be pure vanity. But, in in being attentive to and deliberate in your body posture, you will have fewer distractions and you will achieve a deeper encounter with God.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the book of Spiritual Exercises, says that “to enter on the contemplation now on my knees, now prostrate on the earth, now lying face upwards, now seated, now standing, always intent on seeking what I want. We will attend to two things. The first is, that if I find what I want kneeling, I will not pass on; and if prostrate, likewise, etc. The second; in the Point in which I find what I want, there I will rest, without being anxious to pass on, until I content myself” (SE, Fourth Addition).
Historically, the church makes recommendations on body postures for different times in one’s spiritual life and for liturgical celebrations. We want to share some recommendations with you for the next time you are ready to meet God.
Liturgical celebrations imply an attitude of attentive listening, of disciples who want to learn. We sit down to listen and see the one who is standing. In solitary study of the Word or spiritual reading, sitting also makes sense. Compared to reading lying down, which usually ends in a nice nap, reading while seated is better.
Prayers we say while lying down, especially while curled up and covered, toasty and warm, rarely end with an “Amen.” Those prayers end up unfinished – one falls asleep before finishing. However, it is wonderful to rest in the arms of Jesus, to be caressed and cared for. Do not expect (or pretend) to have a deep and long prayer if you get too comfortable. You might start off talking to Him lucidly but then not be able to even finish praying a Hail Mary.
In the liturgy, standing expresses an attitude of “here I am to serve you and listen carefully” – almost a military attitude, as being ready to be sent on a mission. In times of personal prayer, you are unlikely to be standing much, but if you’re out in nature or in contemplative exercise, and looking around you is part of your prayer, then standing can help you to achieve a greater depth.
I must confess that I like to prostrate myself before the Lord, to throw myself face down before Him, but obviously I try to do it alone or with those I trust who are also spiritually intimate. It helps me to express that I am nothing, I know nothing, and I owe everything to Him. I decrease in order for Him to grow in me. But it will not happen to you if prostrate yourself in the hall of the temple in the middle of the consecration in Mass. Even if it is super spiritual, you will not help the other people who are around you; you will only distract them.
A good friend of mine always says that the path we must travel to find God is the distance between the ground and our knees. Kneeling is the spiritual position par excellence. In the liturgy, it expresses devotion, humility, adoration, and recognition. At the same time, in private settings, next to your bed or anywhere, it is good to fall on your knees before God and express in secret what the Church invites you to express in the liturgy. When you get on your knees, it will surely take you to deeper waters in your prayer.
Eyes closed to concentrate, to look inside ourselves, we can tend toward daydreaming and we might even end up preventing ourselves from concentrating. (Actually, it happens to me. Maybe it happens to you, too.) Eyes open to look up, usually at a painting or religious image, or contemplating nature, can actually be more helpful. (Although if you want to look at the ceiling, that is fine as long as it works for you.)
There is so much to do with them, expressing many different things. None are wrong, but here it is important that you listen to the words of St. Ignatius when referring to having found the position that allows me “to find what I want.” If raising your hands allows you to praise God more than to draw the attention of all others who do not, then go ahead! On the other hand, if keeping them together discreetly allows you to open your soul and heart, then go ahead! Just take care that, in expressing your inner movements, you do not distract or disturb those around you.
*This post has been translated by Jennifer Dabovich. You may find the original here.
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