Last Sunday Deb preached on the Lord’s Prayer, proclaiming to us the good news that prayer is a gift from God, whereby he shares his power with us to live out the political vision of the Sermon on the Mount.
I was reading this week that the ancient church fathers and mothers affirmed the importance of our bodies in prayer: what happens in our souls affects our bodies, and what we do with our bodies in prayer affects our souls! This is why we stand to sing and pray, make the sign of the cross, kneel to confess our sins, open our hands to receive the Eucharist, open our arms to receive a blessing, etc.
I mention praying with our bodies because something I’m learning about living through a pandemic is that, for each of us, it triggers a trauma response in our bodies of “fight, flight, or freeze.” Some of us instinctively retreat from social contact for fear of catching or spreading the virus (the “flight” response, perhaps?). Others of us instinctively try to minimize or dismiss the danger, trying to get back to normal as quickly as possible (the “fight” response, perhaps?). And then sometimes we just don’t know what to do and “freeze,” unable to make a decision.
I am familiar with all three of these impulses, and none of them are better or worse than the others. They are all simply ways that our bodies automatically react to threats. But here’s the key: as disciples of Jesus we work through these bodily responses not by trusting them (as if they’re telling us the truth), nor by denying them (as if they’re “bad”), but by first simply becoming aware of what is happening in our bodies when these trauma responses come “online.”
And then, once we are aware of what’s really happening in our bodies, prayer can begin. Because we know that God meets us in reality, embracing the gift of prayer means becoming aware of our bodies and then offering our bodies as a living sacrifice in embodied practices of prayer, trusting that God is meeting us right where we are in our bodies, shaping us as his people, and empowering us to live in the politics of love that Jesus reveals.
So, may I suggest one way to receive the gift of prayer this week would be to simply start each day taking 5 minutes to do the following (before looking at your phone):
- Sit on the edge of your bed and take a few deep breaths, becoming aware of your body: what you feel, what you sense.
- Make the sign of the cross and say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
- Open your hands and pray through the Lord’s Prayer slowly.
- Hands still open, say, “Father, I receive this day that you have made.”
- Take a few more deep breaths in silence, again checking in with your body and noticing your feelings.
- Write down anything that seems significant, and then begin your day.
Again, to pray like this will only take 5 minutes or so. If you don’t currently have a practice of prayer, I encourage you to start with this. And please reach out to let me know how it’s going, or if you’d like to dive deeper into bodily prayer.