Must I Kneel When I Pray?

Maybe there are other ways for your body to mirror your prayer.

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Posted in , Aug 7, 2021

Arms raised in prayer

The tradition of kneeling as we pray is a lovely one, a way of putting our bodies in a supplicating position, honoring that most powerful, loving One. But do we always have to kneel when we pray?

There is biblical tradition behind kneeling, of course. Take the words of the Psalm, “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). In the Gospel of Luke, we observe how Jesus on the night before His Crucifixion, went up to the Mount of Olives with the disciples, withdrew from them and “knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41).

If Jesus knelt, that’s surely good enough for us.

Except as I look at the biblical sources—and mostly in the Gospels—I keep seeing other options. Jesus stood and prayed when He blessed the loaves and the fishes and handed them to the disciples. And when He welcomed the children, saying, “Let the little children come to me,” He laid His hands on all of them, blessing them. Clearly standing.

Take the disciples at the Last Supper. As they gathered in the Upper Room, seeing Jesus bless and break a loaf of bread and say, “Take, eat; this is my body,” they were sitting at the table (possibly even lying next to it as was the ancient custom). At any rate, not kneeling.

I think all of this should remind us to pray in whatever way is appropriate for the moment. Throwing yourself physically into a position that goes with the prayer—like Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Or other situations:

Sitting next to a hospital bed. How grateful I have been to hear such prayers. I, too, have sat next to hospital beds, praying out loud, not even knowing if my words are heard. But the closeness of whom I’m praying for adds to the power.

Standing in a roomWe were a large family group, some 20 of us, and serving ourselves in open kitchen, potluck. Some were ready to eat, some were still filling up their plates. How to say grace in a situation like this? Standing.

“Dear God,” my brother-in-law Michael said in his booming voice, and we bowed our heads where we were, however we were. Prayerful no matter what.

Lying down. There are times I simply want to take in as much as possible the world God gave us. l lie on my back outside, gazing up at the heavens (a blue sky or starry sky), filled with wonder. Then at night, as I fall asleep, there I am lying in bed. Sometimes I’ll picture God smiling at me.

Raising your hands. When the Spirit moves us in church, indeed, we raise our hands. We reach up to the heavens. “So I will bless you as long as I live,” says Psalm 63:4, “I will lift up my hands and call on your name.”

More poignantly, you might be reaching out your hands in an expression of need and desperation, your body mirroring your prayer. “I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:6).

God made us, body and soul. And when you can use your body in a way that amplifies a prayer, go for it.

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