Fr. James Martin, S.J.: The importance of posture in prayer

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How do you pray?  By that I don’t mean what kind of prayer do you do, but how do you pray physically?  Do you kneel? Sit? Lie down? That’s something that’s often overlooked by spiritual writers but posture in prayer is very important.  Of course, plenty of people pay while they’re walking or running, but let’s talk about those of us who pray by being still.

One of the most helpful aids to prayer is finding a stance that is physically comfortable. Now, of course it can’t be perfect. There will always be something nagging at you physically—you might be sick with a sore throat or the flu, or have pulled a muscle in your back, or even have a long-term physical ailment that hurts you.  So there is no position that is 100% comfortable, and God can be with you in your discomfort. But you can at least try to be as comfortable as possible.

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It also helps to have a posture that reminds you that you’re in God’s presence.  For example, I like to sit while I pray, but sometimes I tend to slouch, and when I do I remind myself that if God were in the room with me, I’d sit up straight.  And God is indeed in the room. At the same time, try to find a way that isn’t too comfortable.  A young Jesuit once told me that he was having a hard time doing his Daily Examen at night, because he kept falling asleep. So I asked him what his nightly routine was.  He said, “Well, I finish up my day, get changed into my pajamas and brush my teeth. Then I climb under the covers and start to pray.” I said, “You’re getting under the covers and doing your Daily Examen?”  He said yes. “Well, I think you might want to try praying before you actually go to bed.” It was an example of being too comfortable. Overall, try to find a good balance between reverence and comfort. God can encounter you no matter where you are, but part of prayer is making sure you’re in the right frame of mind.

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Richard Stoops
1 year 6 months ago

Your article calls to mind the role of silence, breathing, and how posture can facilitate contemplative prayer. I pray with a conviction of God's presence and a prompting by the Holy Spirit to submit my mind and body to His presence so that my "heart" may be opened and healing and intimacy in my person can become rooted and united with His. The early church fathers spoke of posture. Here's a good article on the Eastern Church's Hesychasts posture when reciting the Jesus Prayer along with breathing. Although I don't practice that posture it is clear that there is something "to pray about" in terms of our body, mind and spirit to be appropriately disposed. https://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Articles_files/Ware-7%20Breathing%20Exercises.html

Craig B. Mckee
1 year 6 months ago

Saint Dominic beat you to the punch by about 8 centuries:
http://op-dma.com/fileadmin/_processed_/csm_Rossianus_bd9fe2dcac.jpg

Bruce Snowden
1 year 6 months ago

Jesuit Priest James Martin is one of the best, clearly an honor to Jesus and St. Ignatius! The lead post on this site is shockingly un-Christian, not defining the Fr. James Martin,S.J. I have come to know through his writings and teachings on prayer Fr. Martin keep the fire of love flaming the truth! Now posting on Chrome, just couldn't afford $300/$700 to install a new Tower on my computer linking me to Java Script, that way much preferred. One learns in life that like it or not one has to do what one has to do. Amen! Again, BRAVO to Fr. James Martin!, S.J.

Tom Rickman
1 year 6 months ago

Just find a good balance between reverence and comfort.
192.168.0.1

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