It's curious that Christian writers through the centuries have said so little about posture in prayer. Aside from the Hesychasts and their so-called "navel-gazing" practice, which seems similar to a zen posture, there's just not much of a big deal made about it. I can't think of a single reference to this topic in Sts. Teresa or John of the Cross, who are two of our mystical doctors of the Church. St. Paul and even Jesus are silent on this matter as well.
The emphasis in Christian prayer is on intent of consciousness, surrender, dialogue -- relationship! This includes, of course, such movements as intercession, thanksgiving, praise, repentance, adoration, praise, and contemplative rest.
There are a few noteworthy exceptions to this general silence about posture and prayer, however. As I work with Dominican Sisters, I have noted posters with Dominic's "Nine Ways of Prayer."
- see http://www.racinedominicans.org/prayer.cfm
The Catholic Mass also includes times for sitting, standing, kneeling, bowing, genuflecting, etc. (A Protestant friend in college who came to Mass with me stated jokingly afterward that he felt like he'd had his workout for the day.)
Neither the Mass nor Dominic's teaching seem particularly oriented toward facilitating any kind of meditative opening, however, especially on comparison with the Hesychasts.
C. S. Lewis emphasized kneeling, but noted that sitting alertly is better than a drowsy kneeling position. In Screwtape Letters, the demon notes:
He is onto something, and favors kneeling as the ideal expression of humility and supplication.
There are a few references in Scripture:
I can vouch for this. Lifting up the hands in praise does create a flow of energy upward, and seems to balance left and right sides of the brain.
William Johnston, a Jesuit, became familiar with Zen during his years in Japan. In Christian Zen he shares an exchange he had with Thomas Merton (who was also interested in Zen) about the practice and other matters. Merton replied:
Kind of sassy, don't you think? Johnston wasn't impressed:
As Merton had died when Christian Zen was written, that was the end of the exchange.
My own sense is that Johnston is right, here. When I attended a Zen retreat in 1987, I did notice the difference posture made. I couldn't sit in the lotus, nor even the half-lotus for very long, but I did use a short, slanted stool that assisted in keeping the spine straight. With the chin slightly lowered, distractions seem to all but cease, and one is left in a state of simple awareness -- what I know call non-reflecting consciousness. Bend the spine or raise the head a bit, and there will be more static, unless contemplative graces are given, and one is drawn into loving absorption. But I have remembered that experience and made use of it many times through the years, as it helps to integrate energy and turn off useless thinking.
So, I think the Hesychasts are really onto something important, especially if one is ready for apophatic meditative experience. Minimally, we all could benefit from noting how posture influences the attentional quality of our prayer.
If I may be so bold here. I believe the reason John of the Cross, and Teresa
of Avila, etc.. meantioned nothing on posturing, and other traditional rituals , is when
the soul gets to a certain stage of "dying to self", and is Becoming close to being
ressurrected in this Beatific Love, life at that moment becomes a ceaseless Prayer.
If matters little what postions you put your body in, or the flow of energy, or if
you are in church, or practicing any religious ritual tradition. At this point, the
body (instrument) is becoming enveloped by God. That's why we catholics must
become aware and hopefully not make the mistake of worshiping our tradition. Otherwise we
are making the same blunder that Christ came along to correct.
As far as the Buddhist, and the Hindu posture and positions for this flow of
energy throughout the body, these can be very beneficial, but again, once you get
embraced by this tremendous Divine Love, that too becomes of little importance.
In my humble opinion
Thanks for sharing, Mark. I agree with your points, and would add that in the unitive stage of transformation, the body has become the servant of the soul, which is increasingly governed by the Spirit. So the body, too, is a servant of the Spirit, and is moved to act accordingly in matters concerning diet, exercise, sexuality, sleep, and postures in prayer. There are times, it seems, when this sensitivity is acute, and others when we seem to have more leeway. I rather prefer the latter, but know we cannot do without the former as well.
Phil, I like that,"the body becomes a "servant of the soul". I must admit, I am not in full compliance, nor am I capturing fully the signifiance of what you stated. I work
at it daily. I can be a little sloppy, but I know exactly what you mean. I have faith that I
will turn that corner.
My father was a Pentecostal pastor and evangelist, and growing up my family split its time between a country called Sri Lanka, and America. Sri Lanka's main faith is Buddhism, but Hinduism, Islam, and of course Christianity are practiced. Anyway, Christianity's lack of any formal posture other than kneeling helped to reinforce ( to me at least ) the power of the Holy Spirit to meet us at the point of our need.
FYI my kundalini experience has helped me concentrate in church and in my personal devotional time.
The only thing i know from the books of Sr. Emmerich ((Visions of ) The life of Jesus),
is, that Jesus asked his three apostles Andrew, John and Petrus on the mountain of Revelation to pray with their hand palms pointing upwards.
Ah, yes, something else:
sometimes it seemed important to pray barefeet.
For instance , again according to the visions from Sr Emmerich, Jesus went the whole way from Betanien to his babtising at the jordan barefeed, and if i remember right , also on the mountain of revelation. Holy ground, like in the case of Moses ???? What i knownow , from the book that KundaliniTherapist mentioned, that the quabalistic jews believe that the lowest chakra is below their feet .
This is my first blog on this site.
The first of many I hope.
I am also looking forward to reading your opinions!
I am a presentor within the contemplative outreach community and facilitate many prayer groups and retreats.
Posture has always been cause for discussion within the community. The minimum that is requested is to find a comfortable position. I believe this to be the ideal attitude. What is important is to be attempt to remain alert during prayer times. What is important is the intention with which we pray. It is the interior disposition that needs to be nurtured and honed. If we put too much emphasis on posture this may draw attention away to what we should be doing; namely, turning our attention towards the Lord. This seems to be what Jesus hinted at. Before many of the gatherings he participated in he would most always be seen going off to be alone with His Father. Before the scene of the feeding of the thousands, for example, His first gesture was to render Grace to God. The inner disposition rather than the outer seems to take precedence in Jesus' teachngs. This seems to comply with the first part of what is mentioned in Mt 6: 'Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them.....do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.'
Now I am not implying that one should not sit in a lotus position. For some that is an important component with how they pray. It is a part of their inner diposition. One has to respect the choice of individuals as to the hows. But one should not feel compelled to imitate such a posture if one cannot physically and or comfortably dress into it. Praying, at least in the contemplative sense, is about letting go and being.
Thanks for your sharing your balanced perspective on this matter, Denis, and welcome to the forum.
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