Spirit Lab in Review: Body Prayer

Here at Spirit Lab, the time has finally come to wrap up our month of body prayer. In case you missed it, we’ve been using two books, Doug Pagitt’s BodyPrayer: The Posture of Intimacy with God and Kalyn Falk’s I Am Here: Six Postures of Prayer as a guide for our prayer practice. We’ve each been practicing body prayer daily (or nearly daily, cuz, you know, life) and here are our results:

 

Bethany: I. Love. Body Prayer.

Seriously. This is totally my jam.

Of course, body prayer wasn’t new to me this month. During the Catholic portions of my youth, prayer postures (kneeling, genuflecting, sign of the cross) were a normal part of the liturgy. When I attended an Evangelical church, it was pretty normal to put our hands in the air, close our eyes, and maybe even sway a little in worship. The churches seemed far apart, but both styles of body prayer worked their way under my skin.

Today, I rarely ever pray without taking some kind of posture. Usually it’s simple: opening my palms to the sky, or taking the hand of a prayer partner. Sometimes it’s more dramatic. When I’m feeling humbled before God, I find myself kneeling, or sometimes even laying face down. When I feel myself opening up before God I fling my arms out and turn my face up to the sky. None of it is scripted; this is just how my body wants to pray, and I’ve learned to listen to it.

All this same, this month of body prayer stretched me–both physically and spiritually. I was especially thankful to have some new language to explain what happens to me when I let my body pray thanks to our excellent authors Doug Pagitt and Kalyn Falk. Practicing every day taught me to push through dry patches. On lazy days, I let myself count ‘sitting my my comfy prayer-chair’ as body prayer–by just giving my attention to the feeling in my gut, in my hands, in my shoulders, and offering it to God.

 

Katie: To a certain extent, I’ve worked out my faith primarily in my head. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t gotten into my heart–it shapes the way I live and what I value on a deep level–but the idea that Christianity is a faith that we fully embody is something I’ve just started chewing on. For that reason, I really appreciated the body prayer practices that I tried during May. I loved the way my body expressed emotions that I didn’t exactly have words for, or how a simple gesture or movement conveyed layers of meaning. As someone with a background in theatre, it makes sense to me that this is the case, but I’d never put it together before.

I also loved the idea of movement as prayer. Growing up Mormon, we learned (and taught) a very specific pattern of prayer with very specific language and forms: Dear Heavenly Father, thank Thee, bless me, in Jesus’ name, amen. It’s been just in the past few years that the structure of my prayers has evolved. But experiencing something without words, or with limited words, as a prayer deepens my understanding of what prayer even is: connection to God in a way that is visceral, not always cerebral and verbal.

Most of my experience with contemplative practice has come through mindfulness meditation, a practice I took up about six years ago to keep me grounded in the present moment and to manage stress. I have been yearning to incorporate contemplative practices rooted in my Christian faith into my life, and was pleased to discover that body prayer is a simple and powerful practice I now have in my toolkit.

 

Kelley: Body Prayer in May was tough for me.  I started strong but struggled to keep up the momentum.  Ultimately, it just wasn’t for me.  Looking back though, I think the experience of trying something new was good in itself.  I’m very structured (in prayer and pretty much every other aspect of my personal life).  If you’re a follower of this blog, you may have remembered I wrote a piece on praying aloud another attempt to change my prayer life.  Between these two practices, I have found myself taking more deliberate physical stances and using my hands in different ways while I pray, especially when it is aloud.

For me, prayer is so…individual.  And I probably struggle to do things so physical and outward as praying aloud or body prayer.  Even when I’m by myself.  One evening in May, I had forgotten to do my body prayer.  My boyfriend was over and while he was working on something else, I used an excuse of wanting to “stretch” because “my back was sore.”  Of course, the “stretches” perfectly mimicked that day’s body prayer.  For me, this is just a reminder that I need to continue to work on being outward.  If I’m not comfortable being my spiritual self around others, I am going to struggle once I fully enter ministry.  Another growth opportunity to add to the list.

On the other hand, I had the opportunity to engage in body prayer in a group during May.  It was led by Maggie and there was a group of about 8 of us doing a handful of different poses and positions.  I found this to be such a beautiful way of supporting one another and reminding our group of the community we are working to become.

 

Maggie: For me,body prayer was best for a quick, occasional meditation moment. I also started my first unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) in May, and I found body prayer especially helpful for those moments during my internship when I needed a chance to reflect, energize, restore, calm, etc. I also loved how adaptable body prayer is. Once I got comfortable with the idea of it (which took no time at all), I found it really easy and natural to create my own prayer postures to fit whatever I needed to pray for.

As Kelley mentioned, I also used body prayer in a group setting and I found it really moving. Doing body prayer in a group helped us connect on a deep emotional level and I think made us pay more attention to our bodies and our spirits, both each other’s and our own, than a traditional verbal meditation or prayer.

I don’t think body prayer will be part of my daily practice, but it is a really useful tool to have in my arsenal of spiritual practices.

 

So, how about you guys? Did anybody else follow along with us? What did you think? Or, are you considering taking up the practice? Let us know in the comments!

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