Lent starts on Ash Wednesday (shorter service 10.30am, longer service with hymns 7.30pm, do come!), March 6th. This year as our Lent discipline we are being encouraged to try new ways of praying. Our sermons in March are called ‘The Prayer Experiment’ and are answering the 5 W-Questions: ‘Who, What, Why, When, Where and How’ and asking us to experiment with our prayers.
Praying, which includes listening, thinking and talking to God, spending time with God, is the life blood of our faith. Our faith is about having a relationship with God and therefore, this talking and listening is essential. Like all relationships, over time they can become stale so trying something new can be enlivening. Or not!
So, here’s the ‘How’ Experiment? Try it!
‘How’ do you pray? Sitting down, kneeling, walking? Perhaps at one time I’d have said it doesn’t matter so long as you’re praying. But we now know we are not just a mind in a body, like a laptop in a case. Our bodies are part of us and what we do with our bodies shapes our thinking. At school I was taught to pray ‘hands together eyes closed’ and that was to stop us being distracted.
Originally in Rome people seem to have stood to pray with their arms outstretched. Kneeling became fashionable in the Middle Ages. It was a position people adopted before a Lord or King, so this position was transferred to their faith as they thought of God as socially superior. In other cultures, there’s the same transference. Muslims, for example bow, kneel and then bow their heads to the ground in prayer, again these actions imitate the postures used in the presence of a King or Superior Person in Eastern Medieval cultures.
In some times and places, people lie face down on the floor to pray and it is thought praying like this makes the prayers more serious. In the past, monks or nuns might pray all night like this before taking their vows and a knight might pray like this before a battle.
Nowadays the most common posture of praying is sitting down. Differences are mostly about what you do with your hands: clasped together, flat together, open on your knees as if you were waiting to be given something from God, in the air as if you’re celebrating a goal being scored.
Here’s an Experiment for ‘How’- try praying standing up, try the different ways of holding your hands. Imagine standing before God. How is God looking at you?
Go to somewhere private - Lie down on your front with your arms outstretched - a bit like a lying down crucifix. Could you imagine being Christ on the cross? What very serious things might you pray in this position?
Sit on your sofa and imagine Jesus sitting down next to you. How does it seem to be praying like this? Try different hand positions.
Which did you like the best? Which will you never try again! What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about God? Come and hear the other Experiments we are being asked to try - every Sunday in March. Let’s enliven our relationship with God in prayer.
- Revd. Jan Ashton
Vicar of Hightown, Liverpool