Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Body at Prayer

One of the interesting things about the word meditation is that is has the same Latin root as the word medical. Both of these words share the root med, which means “to look after” or “to think about.” It is not difficult to understand why these two words sprang from a single idea. The mind-body connection used to be commonly accepted, but over the centuries, it seems the connection has been blurred or even lost. Meditation is now generally considered an activity of the mind and heart. A simple definition of meditation is to center one’s thoughts on God. We see this meaning as the word is used in the Bible, such as in Psalm 63:6, which says, “When I think of you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches.”
Meditation is a simple thing and there is nothing mysterious about it. Its purpose is to heighten our awareness of God. Distraction seems to be the most frequent obstacle when we try to establish a practice of meditation. It is a discipline and takes time and intention. Although it is a simple thing to do, it is not easy. It requires a commitment of will, time, practice, and persistence.

Those who practice meditation have experienced benefits for the body. Perhaps we see this mostly in the reduction of stress and the many positive effects this in itself has on the body. But even more, the practice of body prayer is an experience that benefits the soul. For me, the practice of Yoga has demonstrated the reciprocal benefit for body and soul in ways that are deeper and fuller than any of my previous experience of body prayer, and I have tried many. There are so many ways to practice body prayer and these are a few that I have enjoyed:

• Probably the most simple and basic form of body prayer is found in liturgical worship. In liturgical worship, we generally stand to praise, kneel in penitence, and sit to contemplate. In some situations, we prostrate our bodies when we want to symbolize rebirth, such as in ordination. We process, bow, and gesture in meaningful ways. The movement and posture of the body expresses what is going on in the spirit. The body and soul move in unity.

• If you have had the opportunity to walk a labyrinth, you know what it is like to have the body convey the soul to the center. I have always found walking the labyrinth to be a great way to open up new reflections and awarenesses of the spiritual journey and the twists and turns that bring us to God.

• Hiking is always a prayerful experience for me. Whenever I am out in the wilderness of God’s creation, usually with friends, I am continually amazed and awed at the exquisite beauty of my surroundings. My heart is always lifted in praise at the infinite variety and uniqueness of different places. The physical activity is refreshing to body and soul.

• The practice of stillness is a great discipline. My most fruitful times of this quiet meditation or centering prayer take place on my prayer bench. On the prayer bench, my body is positioned for deep breathing in a very comfortable way. The prayer bench is a great tool for this discipline. Prayer beads are helpful here, also.
• Laughter is a wonderful form of prayer that is great for the body. I must admit that when I go out for a glass of wine with my friends, we are often the loudest table in the whole restaurant. Every now and then we get looks. We don’t intend to disturb anyone, but sometimes I’m afraid we do. I treasure these times or laughter with friends, family, and colleagues. I am intentional about making time and space for laughter in my life.

• One way that I practice body prayer is at the piano. Playing the piano is such a physical experience and involves every muscle in the body. When the whole body is concentrated on making beauty through music, it is an experience of deep spiritual and creative activity. The mind, body, and soul are focused on one thing. This is some of the deepest spiritual work that I do in my prayer practice.

• Yoga is my newest practice of body prayer. I know that as this practice deepens, new discoveries and insights will come. This is one more powerful opportunity to deeply integrate body and soul with intention. I am excited to see the fruit that will come of it.

There are many different ways that we practice meditation and body prayer. Everyone can examine his or her own life and reflect on the various ways that they practice body prayer. There are always many different methods to explore and new things to try. Each new exploration is a discovery of the wealth and variety of God’s grace.

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