Tonight when I curl up with God it will be in very different circumstances from usual. I am staying the night at a Roman Catholic retreat center in Mississauga, Ontario. My room is just big enough for a twin bed, the door to open and close, some hangers to hang behind the door and the chair I am sitting on at the end of the bed. Other than a tiny ½ bath the only other feature in the room is a prayer stool with a table to hold the Bible.
I got thinking about the differences in the ways we pray. In my Presbyterian church during worship we sometimes pray standing, sometimes sitting, but we don’t kneel. Many of my Catholic and Anglican friends kneel to pray. Our Muslim brothers and sisters kneel and bow their heads to the ground in prayer. As mentioned the other day, Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery) would like to go out in a field or climb a tree to pray but she certainly didn’t understand why she had to kneel at her bedside to say her prayers.
I have no deep theologically based answers to the question of the posture of prayer. Maybe we need to look at this from the perspective of body language in general. We all know that if we are talking to someone who has their arms tightly folded we are not likely to get them to agree with what we are saying. We can tell by looking at a person’s posture if they are defensive, relaxed, interested, bored, ready to leave, or angry. If you felt that you needed to protect yourself from potential attack you would hardly get down on your knees and put your forehead to the floor. Such a posture would leave you a sitting duck! But maybe that is the whole point of praying that way. In order to take that posture for prayer you need to have complete trust. Some of us might do it in the privacy of our rooms but I cannot imagine doing it where anyone was going to see me.
I have occasionally, guided by one devotional writer or other, been called upon to read and pray in certain postures. Even though I am alone in my own room I still feel silly following these directions. To be honest, I don’t even read the scripture aloud if it calls for me to do that. So, tonight I am going to try something different. I am going to pull out the little stool and kneel before God and I’ll let you know what I thought of it tomorrow.