This evening we are doing an experiment with postures of prayer.
Prayer is sometimes a verbal thing – trying to get the right words. Other times prayer is a heart thing – trying to make sure your have the right attitude or are in the right mood.
My thinking about prayer changed radically 12 years ago when I encountered Richard Twiss’ work We Dance Our Prayers. His basic point in that the tongue is muscle and words are learned and repeated motions to create certain sounds. Native dances are the same way!
Native dancing ceremony is different than night-club style dancing. In a club it is about the individual feeling and interpreting the music with spontaneous and individualized style and moves. This is often for the purpose of signaling desirability and attractiveness. Which is fine … but when Twiss talks about dancing, me means something different.
Twiss highlights Native ceremonial dance as a communal activity that replicates inherited movements and steps in order to tell a story or bring out a message. It varies according to tribe and song but it has an intentionality and deliberateness that is palpable if you have ever seen it. Here is an example from his Wiconi Living Waters Pow Wow
This is one kind of dancing and there are several others. A powerful example is shown at minute 15 of this presentation
We Dance Our Prayers opened me up from the vary narrow concept of prayer that I had as a charismatic-evangelical who primarily viewed prayer as intercession.
Twiss’ work coupled in my mind and heart with this new realization that the central story of the christian faith is about a body. That christianity is an embodied religion and that I had made it too ‘spiritual’ and other worldly. God intended for the body to be a something more than a mud-suit to temporarily house a ‘soul’ until it was time to ascend to the higher realm. This is more platonism or gnosticism than it is christian.
In the past 12 years my prayer life has changed a lot. Perhaps the biggest change came when I stopped closing my eyes. Randy Woodley first pointed out to me the 2-fold problem with closing your eyes when you pray:
- It is nowhere in the Bible
- You block out creation
I started praying with my eyes open and opening my eyes to the world that god loves so much. I look around for a tree or the sky or anything that god has made. Once in a while I get stuck in a church building that has literally blocked out all nature and so I have look at a person who’s eyes are closed to see something that god has made!
Which brings me to tonight. I am so excited to do this experiment.
Here is the thing that I hope comes through for people:
- Our bodies help us pray. The posture creates in us an attitude that changes the way we pray.
- Our bodies pray for us. This is the big epiphany! If I am kneeling with my hands raised and looking to the heavens … that is a prayer whether I say anything or not.
Talking is one way to pray. Dancing may be a way to pray. Placing your body in different postures is a way to pray.
Here are the postures we will utilize tonight:
- Gentle Movement
- Looking Down
- Looking up
I would love to hear about your experience with any of this.