Reshaping the body with prayer
As I lay face up on the table a few weeks ago, my massage therapist interrupted my reverie.
She said, “Do you know that your right leg is listing outward.”
“Nope, I had no idea really.” She was standing at my feet and gently adjusted my wayward right leg. “Now that you mention it . . . I notice what you are saying.” My left knee cap pointed straight toward the ceiling, but my right one was tilted outward.
“It means that the muscles on the inside of your right leg are slightly longer than those on the outside of your leg.”
“Hum.” I thought about it. “Could be because I sit cross-legged in my bed each morning to meditate for 20 minutes?” I wondered aloud.
“That could do it,” she agreed. “Some of my clients have found that changing that posture is helpful.”
“Well, I’ve been doing it every morning for most of the last ten years. Except when I was pregnant.” I didn’t add that I sat for hours of a day in the early months of my daughter’s life in the very same position: cross legged on the bed or couch with her nursing or sleeping in my lap.
Seems prayer had been reshaping my body.
After five minutes of silent practice of the “Jesus Prayer” (as presented by St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) I rang the chime and invited the class to talk about their experience. We talked through the catalog of our internal responses to the prayer: our distractions, resistances, theological blockades, and our more mellow and peaceful responses. Finally we got to talking about some responses of our bodies.
I said, “Of course we are all familiar with the idea that prayer reshapes our minds. But I want to suggest to you that prayer also reshapes our bodies. In the last five minutes as we were all sitting in silence and praying Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, I’m willing to wager that if we were to have our vital signs tracked we would have found our pulse rate going down, our breathing slowing, our muscles relaxing, and tension departing our bodies.”
Those around the circle nodded in agreement. They’d felt it. Centuries of practice confirm it.
Prayer is not just a mental practice. It is not only an emotional or relational practice. It reshapes our bodies as well as our minds and hearts. And none of these are separate discrete parts of ourselves. We are whole interconnected beings.
This week’s Advent texts are full of bodies being shaped and reshaped by prayers of all kinds: conceiving, laboring, giving birth, leaping, longing, crying, feeding, laughing, offering and sacrificing. God does not just reshape our minds or call us to change our feelings, but cares for our very bodies and the well-being of our whole selves.
How is prayer reshaping your body? How is your body praying this season? What gifts of God’s presence are you receiving in your body as this Advent unfolds?