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For most of my life, I have prayed lying down: late-night thoughts directed at God from my pillow. It probably comes as little surprise that, for most of my life, I have ended up asleep shortly after. Feeling betrayed by my body, I could not pray. Several years ago a coworker at our church staff prayer meeting caught my attention when he arranged his body differently than the rest of us during prayer. He sat Christian body language head bowed, as we all did, but he extended his hands on the table, palms upward.
I asked him afterward why he kept his hands outstretched. I had long known that prayer is talking to God, communicating with the divine using human language. However, the thought that prayer might involve body language was a Christian body language one.
But why not? Experts tell us that most of our communication is nonverbal, with intonation and body language ing for more than 75 percent of the messages received by hearers. Crossed arms indicate defensiveness; hands on hips, aggression. Leaning forward and maintaining eye contact while listening indicate attentiveness and interest. With this new thought in mind, I became self-conscious about my supine supplications. What did my posture communicate about my priorities in prayer? Yes, it showed a trust that God is intimate and omniscient—knowing every thought before it is on my tongue and loving me even in the ragged exhaustion of the last moments of my day.
But was it also possible that my pillow prayers indicated little commitment to God? After all, a healthy marriage needs more than a hastily whispered goodnight in its communication repertoire. So I began to make a point of sitting up to pray, with palms extended as my friend had shown me. I moved to the dining table. I found the shape of my prayers shifting with my posture. I prayed more intently; my thoughts drifted less.
I found myself needing to pray some things out loud and even—on occasion—in writing. There were times when I felt the need to raise my hands, pushing back the awkward self-consciousness of wondering exactly what kind of weirdness my worship als might communicate. Tim Challies astutely observes that God is more concerned with the content of our prayers than the posture of our prayers. Our body posture involves more than the spiritual expression of our hearts, though.
Authors James K. Smith and Tara Owens are convinced that our bodies play a crucial role in our spiritual formation too. What we do with our bodies not only expresses but also shapes our loves and convictions. For we humans are not just saved souls and enlightened minds: We are embodied souls.
In his books Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the KingdomSmith makes the case that Christians cannot think their way into the Christian body language. Christian discipleship is not so much a question of spiritual information as spiritual formation : learning to love what God loves. Central to our practice of this aspect of our discipleship is awareness of the ways in which our senses fuel our imaginations and cultivate desires in us—desires which in turn fuel our loves and our leanings.
The adrenaline rush and camaraderie of cheering for Monday Night Football or the thrill of being at the mall do more than provide entertainment: They stimulate the neural cortices firing in our brains and flooding our pleasure sensors in a way that makes us want more football.
Part of our discipleship, then, must be choosing bodily habits and practices that orient our loves toward God. In a season where words of doubt flooded her mind, she writes of the anchoring grace of receiving the gospel with her body, within the greater church body. While Held Evans and Smith write about the grace of corporate worship, Owens is passionate about believers learning about corporeal worship in their personal devotions too. Tragically, Owens says in her book, most of us live without any awareness that our spirituality is intimately tied to our physicality:.
We suppress—and repress—every desire we have to be touched, every noticing we have of our physical body and the urges that we experience in it. We too easily believe and thus live and pray as if our bodies were irrelevant to our spiritual well-being. Our good bodies were created by our good God, and it is his intention that we live in physical bodies for the rest of eternity, just as Jesus will.
We should, therefore, pay attention to what our bodies tell us about God, ourselves, and the world. Owens calls us to cultivate an awareness of our bodies: learning to listen to their weaknesses and wants. Our hungers for rest, connection, and beauty are more than primal urges that should be suppressed but are in fact divine sensors calling us to live life abundantly, embodied.
Perhaps, then, my urge to nap should not be stifled with coffee but satiated with sleep. Perhaps my body is preaching that there is a good Creator who calls me to rest, if only I would listen. And perhaps, if I am serious about offering my body as a living sacrifice, as Romans ens, I should not lie down on a pillow and expect something more than a brief, soporific prayer. If our union with Christ is reflected in our unions in marriage, I would do well to take the words of the ancient marital vows to heart in my commitment to God: With my body, I thee worship.
Bronwyn Lea is a South African-born writer and speaker living in California with her husband and three littles. She likes puns, novels, ice-cream recipes, and lately, praying outside. Find her on Facebook or Twitter at bronleatweets. articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday. in the conversation on Facebook Christian body language Twitter.
More Newsletters. We report on news and give our opinion on topics such as church, family, sexuality, discipleship, pop culture, and more! Jump directly to the content. Log In. A surprising key to enriching my spiritual life. Experiments in Prayer Posture With this new thought in mind, I became self-conscious Christian body language my supine supplications.
The Spirit-Body Connection Tim Challies astutely observes that God is more concerned with the content of our prayers than the posture of our prayers. Taking Our Bodies Seriously Part of our discipleship, then, must be choosing bodily habits and practices that orient our loves toward God. Tragically, Owens says in her book, most of us live without any awareness that our spirituality is intimately tied to our physicality: We suppress—and repress—every desire we have to be touched, every noticing we have of our physical body and the urges that we experience in it.
Choosing to Embody Devotion Perhaps, then, my urge to nap should not be stifled with coffee but satiated with sleep. The Body Language of Prayer. Free CT Women Newsletter. Address. Subscribe to the selected newsletters. Read These Next From the Editor. Guidelines for sorting out a complicated question.
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