Body prayer is physical activity that promotes spiritual communion with God, sometimes accompanied by verbal communication, but often simply experienced as spending time doing something together with him.
1. Choose an activity that you will dedicate to body prayer. With a little research, you can pursue ancient prayer arts like walking the labyrinth. Others might designate a modern activity, such as shooting hoops or cross-stitching, for body prayer. Perhaps you would prefer to commandeer a daily chore like walking the dog. Or you might want to dip into your brain’s artistic side by doodling abstractly or coloring a book of geometric shapes.
2. Find any equipment you need (the dog’s leash, colored pencils and paper, etc.) and a location where you won’t be disturbed by interested observers. You may load your headset with modern worship songs, recorded Scripture, or classical church music to help you focus. Or you may choose the stillness of silence.
3. Turn off your phone, pager, social networking site, email, etc. Quiet yourself before the Lord and invite him into your prayer time. Ask him to direct and protect your thoughts from foolishness and deception. You may suggest a topic of conversation with him, perhaps a choice you have to make or a tricky relationship or an unhealthy attitude. You may ask him to bring something to mind. Or you may simply decide to be together without a specific agenda.
4. Whatever the activity you choose, the goal is to free your mind from immediate concerns by using a single, repetitive motion to focus your attention. This activity is different than an intercessory prayer walk, where you make requests for the neighborhood as you circle the local buildings, or an artistic expression, which depicts visually or audibly how you feel. Ironically, the purpose of body prayer is to limit yourself to a single activity as a means of stilling yourself to listen to God’s voice (Ps 46:10).
5. When you are ready, turn on your headset and begin. Allow yourself to wander wherever the dog leads or to doodle freeform, for example. Do not obsess with accuracy, precision, or perfect pace. Enjoy the mix of colors, shapes, and movement that you encounter. Trusting the Lord to reveal what he wishes, let your thoughts roam.
6. Set yourself a time limit and faithfully stop when it is up. You can return to the exercise of prayer tomorrow.
7. Immediately, make a note to yourself of any specific patterns or directions your thoughts took. What did you hear in the worship or in the Scripture that bears more attention? What issue from your current circumstances dominated? Do you feel like laughing? Are you sad? If you noticed a new thought or synthesis, if you understood an anxiety, if you felt a conclusion emerge, write that down, too. If nothing happened, ask yourself what nothing felt like. Where did you and the dog end up? What shape did nothing take on your paper?
8. Offer your wandering, your notes, your ideas, your feelings to God. Thank him for his guidance, safe-keeping, and peace. If nothing did happen, offer that nothingness to God, thanking him for the chance to be still in his presence (Ps 23:2–3).
9. It may take some time for you to release yourself from expectations of production or success. Often, people become discouraged because they cannot see immediate purpose or meaning in their wanderings, whether by foot or by hand. Western society and sometimes our personalities have conditioned us to trust only the scientific approach of our left brains. Give yourself permission and several chances to simply delight in the right brain artistic “mess” you and God make because you have made it together. Allow yourself to take walks with God that assert no more agenda than spending time together.
Gregory of Nyssa’s Physical Faith
Sample the Prayer
Body Prayer (Help to open PDFs.)
We are one in body mind and spirit, and prayer is not confined to our minds and hearts. It is expressed by our bodies as well. When our bodies are engaged in prayer, we are praying with our whole person. Using our entire being in prayer helps us to pray with greater attentiveness. The condition, position, and actions of our body play an important part in our spiritual life.
Although we may not think about it, we use several different body positions in our worship services to help us connect with God. We stand to sing and to say some prayers; we kneel to confess and to pray personal prayers; we sit to listen to Scripture and sermons; some genuflect before the altar; some make a sign of the cross at certain points in the worship service; and some raise their hands in praise. All of these actions are examples of using our bodies in prayer.
In thinking about our individual personal prayer we often ignore the importance of our body. Teachers of meditation practices stress the importance of body position in prayer, particularly to aid in being still before God. But being still is not always the best way. In one meditation practice that I have used, after arranging people to sit in a circle close to each other, participants sequentially assume the following hand positions to guide them through their prayers.
Clenched Fists: Bringing to mind the anger, frustrations, and disappointments in life;
Praying Hands: Opening up and connecting to God;
Open Hands: Letting go and listening to God; and
Join Hands: Joining our spirits with others in carrying out what God wishes for us.
This is one way of using our body in prayer.
Julian of Norwich experienced severe bodily pain when she was thirty years old. It was during her illness that she received visions, which she later recorded in Revelations of Divine Love. Regardless of whether we are experiencing physical suffering, when we welcome and witness our body’s sensations with openness, we are also open to the presence of God in a way that pushes our busy minds out of the way. Julian wrote, “The fruit and the purpose of prayer is to be oned with God in all things.” In a Body Prayer that comes from the motto of the Order of Julian of Norwich, you take a few minutes to let your heart and mind’s attention sink deeper into your body, to remember your inherent oneness, through these simple words, postures, and intentions.
AWAIT (hands at waist, cupped up to receive): Await God’s presence, not as you expect, hope, or imagine, but just as it is in this moment.
ALLOW (reach up, hands open): Allow a sense of God’s presence (or not) to come and be what it is, without meeting your expectations.
ACCEPT (hands at heart, cupped towards body): Accept as a gift whatever comes or does not come. Accept that you are not in charge. Accept the infinity of God’s presence, whether or not you are aware.
ATTEND (hands outstretched, ready to be responsive): In this stance of openness, attend to the action(s) that God invites you to take.
These actions are shown on a You Tube video at: />
Another way of using the body in prayer, and one that would appeal to children of all ages, is the use of body actions when reciting the Lord’s Prayer. There are several versions of this. One of which can be found at: Another way of involving children in prayer using parts of the body is the Five Finger Prayer, the details of which can be found at: />
Prayer while walking or running involves our whole body in prayer. In another article in this series I write about the usefulness of “Prayer Walking”, which can be a wonderful gift for those who like to get up and move around while intentionally communicating with God. Prayer Walking can be done in any location at any time, sometimes alone, or with a group. It includes, but is not restricted to, traditional practices such as: making a pilgrimage; walking the Stations of the Cross; and walking a labyrinth.