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I remember vividly the first time I had an experience of praying with my body. I was 6 years old. I had been hearing stories about God from my parents and my school, and I knew that God was big—bigger than I could imagine, and God was powerful, more powerful than anyone or anything, and God was infinite. I remember wondering about that word “infinity.”
And then, one summer day, I went to the beach, as I had many times before. And I went into the ocean, which I had also done many times before. And I practiced something I’d learned, not in school, but at swim class: I practiced floating.
It’s not so easy to float in the ocean, not the Atlantic Ocean in Ventnor, New Jersey, at any rate. There are waves, and they generally bounce you around. But sometimes, you can find a place where the water undulates more than it crashes, and you can lie, suspended between earth and sky, held up by something that is big—bigger than you can imagine—and powerful—more powerful than almost anyone or anything—and, seemingly… and suddenly, I understood the word, “infinity,” I understood it in my body, as I was floating in that gorgeous blue, held by something that was beautiful and dangerous and I thought: this is what God is like.
The second time I had an experience of praying with my body I was a little older, thirteen now, and my mother had asked me to help with some weeding. I went to the flower beds and got down on the ground and started to pull out the things that were not flowers. (It took me a while to get this straight. I was a late bloomer.) And as I pulled out the weeds, I started to think about the things in my own heart that maybe were crowding out the better things, the things I wanted to tend so that they could grow and bloom like flowers.
My point is, I bet many of you are already praying with your body… though, maybe you haven’t thought of it that way. I think we end up praying with our bodies when we have an experience that takes us out of ourselves so far that we end up back in ourselves, if that makes any sense. I didn’t set out to ponder the unimaginable divine in the ocean; it just happened when I noticed some things about floating there. I didn’t set out to pray through my weeding; I just realized after the fact, I was doing that.
Think of the things you love to do. Walking or running; swimming or gardening; stirring a pot of soup or kneading bread dough; painting a wall a beautiful color; bouncing a baby on your knee or pushing him in a stroller. I know someone who loves to wash her car—I mean, really loves to watch the water from the hose flow over the curves of the roof and hood, down around the tires and hubcaps, and then away into the street. Washing her car is a prayer for her… it’s about gratitude, for what she has and for what she can do and for where that particular vehicle can take her and has taken her.
We discover ourselves at prayer in our bodies. But we can also very deliberately choose to pray in that way… we do that every time we sing a hymn or song of praise. We can do that using a tool for walking meditation, such as a labyrinth.
Eric Liddell, the Scottish Olympian who also happened to be a missionary, famously said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
When, in your body, do you feel God’s pleasure? I think that can happen any time when we use our bodies the way God intended, and that includes all the ways we express our love for one another. We may not have put this description on it, we may hesitate to describe it this way. But this is prayer.
David danced before the Lord, at the sheer joy of knowing that the tablets of God’s covenant had been brought safely into the holy city. The psalm tells us to praise God, not only with the psaltery and harp, but also with dance.
How have you been praying with your body? How might you begin to notice when that happens? How might you like to try?
Let everything that has breath, praise God. Thanks be to God. Amen.