In the last ti morceau, which focused on postures for prayer, I mentioned the standard ones like kneeling, standing, and sitting, and even mentioned walking and driving, since those are characteristic settings of a lot of prayer. Remember, in this series of morceaux, we’re focusing on the subject of “helps” to prayer, and our postures definitely can help or hinder effective communication with God.
I feel compelled to move on to a very related subject: gestures and actions for prayer. It is not just our whole body but perhaps most especially our hands and our voices that need to be engaged when we seek the Lord or the intercession of His saints, and express ourselves in the process.
You might think that the most classic prayer-gesture is the best-known one today: folded hands. Well, folded hands, especially when coupled with a head slightly bowed, not only express reverence but also deepen it. Not just in Christian prayer but also in many cultural settings (think India, or many Asian cultures such as Korea), other persons are greeted with folded hands as a sign of respect. Folded hands denote a gentle demeanor, an attitude that is particularly appropriate for prayer.
Yet folded hands are not the most classic prayer-gesture! The oldest and most archetypal gesture is instead one often used in worship, the gesture of open hands extended and slightly lifted up. In fact, in Catholic liturgical language, this gesture is actually called the orans position (the Latin word orans means “praying”). The priest uses it especially when leading prayer or praying in the name of the entire community, but more and more other persons are discovering how it also well expresses praise and gratitude to God. I see quite a few people adopting this gesture during Mass, especially while praying the Lord’s Prayer or singing the angelic hymn “Holy, holy, holy…”
I’m out of room in this week’s morceau, but next time I’ll deal with a few more things which we can “do with our hands” that enrich the experience of prayer. These are simple things but when you and God are conversing, you really want to make sure you’re doing it the right way!