Using Our Bodies in Prayer

By Kathy Keary

In our series on contemplative living, an element that stands out is that prayer goes way beyond words. In a matter of fact, words in many instances are a barrier to intimacy with our Maker. When we engage mind, spirit and body in prayer, our whole being is engaged. The whole person expressing the deep desire for communion with God is a hallowed moment indeed.

The Incarnation itself speaks of the holy significance of the human body in its relation to the Sacred One. A woman’s body became the blessed vessel from which the divine entered the world in the form of a man.

This man laid hands on many to heal them and made the ordinary sacred by acts such as dining with others. He entrusted us with an image of the Master washing the disciples feet with a command that we do likewise.

Check this out: A companion article you might find useful is Focusing: Listening to the Wisdom of the Body for Healing.

At the Last Supper, he gave us his very body and blood as nourishment for our lives of faith. He made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up his body on the cross for the salvation of the world. Jesus physically rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. He promised and sent the Spirit to dwell in our mortal bodies empowering us to be his hands and feet in service of others.

Using our bodies to pray is quite common in many faith traditions. In the Catholic tradition in Christian spirituality, we see it play out in many ways, including in the sign of the cross, genuflecting, bowing, holding hands when we say the Lord’s Prayer, shaking hands at the sign of peace, processing to communion, taking the Body of Christ in the palm of our hands, placing it on our tongue and drinking the Most Precious Blood of Jesus.

Reverently caring for bodily reactions puts into motion a process of emotional healing.

I was blessed with the opportunity to lead the Rite of Christian Initiation for several years. One of the most touching rituals was the signing of the Catechumens and Candidates with the cross marking not only the forehead with the sign of our faith but also the ears, eyes, lips, heart, shoulder, hand  and feet as beautiful words were proclaimed. Another unforgettable memory is witnessing the newly baptized ascend from the waters of Baptism glowing with huge smiles and a sense of newly found freedom painted on their face.

A practice from Hinduism that touches me deeply is the simple act of folding one’s hands at heart level, closing one’s eyes, and bowing to another saying the simple word, “Namaste.” By doing this, one is bowing to the Holy One who dwells in the other. I admire the simple but deeply profound acknowledgement of the divine spark that glows within each of us.

Allowing one’s body to gracefully move to the rhythm of a song as one lifts her/his whole presence to God is a beautiful prayer indeed. The dancer in this video brings to life “The Prayer” sung by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. I hope you will take the time to watch it. It is indeed breath taking.

As a mom, it moved me to sentimental tears. It illuminates the sanctity and power of dance as heart, soul, and body unites with the Creator.

In our previous article, “Adding Your Own Color,” we mentioned that a natural desire to create lies within each of us as people made in the image and likeness of God. Art journaling is yet another way to use our body to communicate with the divine.

I was introduced to Zen Art a couple of years ago and find it to be a fun, playful exercise in mindfulness. I hope you give it a peek as you may find it enjoyable too. Simple instructions to make creative designs are given in this video.

In our exploration of centering prayer, we discussed the role the body plays. One sits up straight with their hands on their lap, eyes closed, and maintains a posture of stillness. An added touch to centering prayer is to engage the body further by following it with a meditative walk where one slowly walks in a circle with eyes cast down as they continue to employ their sacred symbol.

Next in our series “An Invitation to “Something New: The Contemplative Life,” we will turn our attention to a form of spiritual meditation called focusing that honors the wisdom that lies within us.

Through focusing, one becomes more attuned to reactions to emotional triggers as felt in the body. Reverently caring for bodily reactions puts into motion a process of emotional healing. Not only do many of us fall prey to everyday stresses, we also may be burdened with past regrets, losses, or shames.

I have personally found the healing effects of focusing to be life-enhancing. I hope you will give it a try.

Note: New articles in this series will be posted to the website every Monday and Wednesday. The full series can be found here: An Invitation to Something New: The Contemplative Life. On Thursday’s we’ll send an email to remind you of the articles

[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]

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