Praying through your body

Revd Karen Wellman is the vicar of St Mark’s Church Teddington, a spiritual director and dances her prayers. Here she shares the joy of danced prayer, and how easy it is to do.

Have you ever thought of praying through the body? We run, walk, cycle or play sport for our physical health, but how about bringing that body into prayer? This might seem to be an odd thing to consider, yet think back to how you were taught to pray. You were probably taught to put your hands together and close your eyes. This simple movement is using the body to help quiet the mind. When you raise your hands during a worship song, or make the sign of the cross during a service, you are praying with the body – we just haven’t named it as 'gesture' or 'body' prayer.

The truth is that we are embodied people and in the past decade we are learning more and more about how our bodies affect our mood. We are discovering our 'second brain' in our guts and how exercise can affect our feelings of wellbeing. It makes sense to wonder if we can use our bodies to pray.

Praying with more than words can be a big step for some, but perhaps we can use our imaginations with gesture so that all of ourselves is engaged in prayer. The image in this piece (see below) is of a group of dancers in Wells Cathedral earlier this year. Each of us has our left hand on our heart and our right hand on the back of the heart of the person next to us.

(Photo credit: Judy King)

It is unlikely that you have 36 friends and a Gaia installation to help you in your prayers, but try copying and holding that gesture for yourself. If you are left handed swap over so that your right hand is on your heart and your left hand is placed on the back of imaginary (or real) person next to you. 

There are a number of ways you might want to use this gesture to pray.

  • You might just want to hold the gesture in silence for a few minutes and notice how you feel.
  • You might want to bring into your mind the people you want to pray for. Imagine them next to you and your open hand brings them into your prayers.
  • As you hold this gesture does a passage of scripture come to mind? Is this something to pray with, or give thanks for?
  • Another way of praying with this gesture is to hold it and at the same time to imagine that Jesus is standing next to you in this circle. His hand is on your back. Again scripture may help if this feels a little strange or unfamiliar.

Perhaps we need to hold onto the words of the angel of the Christmas story, ‘Fear not’, or maybe Isaiah resonates: ‘I have called you by name and you are mine.’

If you haven’t prayed in this way before it is likely to feel unfamiliar and it might be emotional as we are not used to bringing all of ourselves to God. Try it a few times before you think that you can’t do it!

How might you incorporate gesture into your prayer time?

A simple introduction to using gesture can be found on my blog post on the LCSD website

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