Reflections on Prayer Postures in Worship

article by Kyle Duff, Pastoral Intern

Prayer is one of the means by which we communicate with God. Throughout the Bible and in Christian history prayer is expressed through both verbalized words and silence, as well as through a variety of physical postures and movements. There is no specifically ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to pray, and indeed a wide variety of expressions may be encouraged to express different attitudes or orientations.

One reason to be mindful of our physical posture during prayer is that the physical body can reflect or even prompt the spiritual or mental state that we hope to take in prayer. The posture of our bodies can not only mirror or communicate an existing attitude of our heart, but also further encourage the posture of our hearts. For instance, kneeling during prayer may reflect a spirit of humility and God’s reign over our lives, a seeking of or appeal to God. Likewise, if we enter this posture physically with our bodies, it may help us to experience that orientation of the heart/mind/spirit.

Some common prayer postures in Christian worship have included:

  • Sitting
  • Kneeling
  • Bowing (while standing or kneeling)
  • Standing (with hands/arms in a variety of positions)
  • Lying Prostrate (facedown on the ground)
  • Hands folded, or hands open with palms up in front of you, or one or both arms lifted above the head and outstretched
  • Head lifted up figuratively toward heaven.

Praying with and through movement has also been an important part of the Christian tradition as well. Certainly, if we are to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), some of that must be done on the go! One ancient, more contemplative prayer practice is walking a labyrinth, inviting our bodies to tread or trace a path that mirrors the winding and circuitous journey of faith. Taking a pilgrimage to a sacred site such as following Jesus’ path to the cross in Jerusalem, or the “Camino de Santiago” in Spain and Portugal is another example of putting prayer into motion. Also common would be forms of choreographed liturgical dance in specific worship contexts and services.

At Augustana, we invite you to consider embodying a posture that reflects the orientation of your heart (It might mean trying something new!), and encourage everyone to adopt a “posture of prayer” that is most meaningful to you – one or a variety which allow you to best make your known your requests to God:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Philippians 4:6

And when we don’t know for what or how to pray we are comforted by Scripture which teaches that the Spirit of God intercedes for us:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. And God, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27).

Romans 8:26-27