My reflection is on the significance and importance of bodily posture in St Dominic’s prayer. As we know from the ‘Nine Ways of Prayer,’ St Dominic used his whole body when he prayed: bowing, prostration, reaching up to heaven.
It struck me as odd that in our time, when there is so great an awareness of the importance of body language in interpersonal communication and of how much of what is communicated is through bodily posture etc., that there should be such a widespread dismissal of any significance of our bodily posture when we pray. It is said that bodily posture doesn’t matter because God looks at the heart.
I think that this ignoring of bodily posture gives rise to a number of problems, largely because it fails to consider the impact that my body language has on my own perception of, and response to, the person that I am talking or listening to. To give an example, if at a lecture I am slouched and looking off out the window my body is telling my mind not to pay attention. If, on the other hand, I sit up straight, keep eye contact and watch expectantly, my body is telling my mind to pay attention.
Our bodily prayer postures act in a similar way: blessing ourselves as we enter a Church reminds us that we are entering a holy place and is also a sort of trigger (as is kneeling) that we are about to pray (like the way insomniacs are advised to develop a ‘pre-bed’ physical routine that will trigger the mind to prepare to sleep). Similarly, genuflecting before the tabernacle is the bodily expression that Jesus (God) is truly present here. Kneeling and prostration likewise remind us of God’s greatness and our littleness.
This means that ignoring or removing bodily posture from our prayer-life actually makes it harder for us to pray and also makes it harder for us to relate to God as a real person, since by removing body language from our communication with him we are no longer communicating as we would with a real person but only with a thought in our head.
May we continue to follow St Dominic’s example and pray with our whole selves (body & mind).
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