Press you hands together, palm-to-palm, finger-to-finger, thumb-to-thumb. Go ahead. Do it now, and hold it for a few seconds. Are you doing it?
Not a very natural pose, is it? In fact, it feels kind of awkward, right? At least it does for me.
The position forces your hands to straighten against their natural curvature. The stretching gives you a slight physical sensation — not uncomfortable, not painful, just noticeable.
It’s precisely because of this physical sensation that I have enjoyed using the gesture in prayer. True, it has been a traditional prayer gesture for hundreds of years, but it was still new and fresh for me when I started using it regularly during the past year.
Before, I would enter into prayer using any old hand position — letting them dangle at my side, clasping them together at right angles, interlacing the fingers — whatever seemed comfortable. Sometimes I would fidget around and use all of them in the same prayer session.
Perhaps I avoided palm-to-palm prayer because it felt so forced. And years ago, before I was a pastor, I attended a church where the pastor used it all the time, and I thought it looked pretentious. But now that I’m using the gesture, I see the benefits. It has helped energize my prayer life. How can a mere gesture do this?
Physical actions do help us enter into different states of mind. Think about it. When you place your right hand over your heart, you think patriotic thoughts. Why? Because that’s what we do whenever we recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the Star Spangled Banner. We’ve learned.
And when we put our index finger to our lips, we automatically hush both our voices and our thoughts, because it’s the gesture of quiet. When we place our left hand on the Bible and hold our right hand up, we become serious and sober, more likely to tell the truth.
When I place my hands together, palm-to-palm, fingers-to-fingers, thumb-to-thumb, my body, mind and spirit know it’s time to pray. It’s time to put away distracting thoughts and focus on communication with the Almighty. It’s time to relax and open myself to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The awkwardness of the pose assists me in entering into prayer. I place my hands in this pose only when I pray. So it’s special. And the slight stretching sensation from my fingers gives me a sensual reminder that it’s time to pray.
It works for prayer at worship, when I’m listening rather than leading (when I’m leading prayer I still use the orans position — arms bent, hands out to each side, palms up). But it also works when I’m listening to Scripture being read. The gesture reminds me to pay attention — this is the Word of God.
Try this practice for yourself — or experiment with what works for you. The simple technique has improved my experience of worship.
When I place my hands together, palm-to-palm, fingers-to-fingers, thumb-to-thumb, I remind myself that I am in the presence of the Holy. I remind myself to quiet my mind, focus my attention and open my heart to God, who is all about and reaching all around me.
Rob Blezard is a writer and editor for SOLI. Reprint rights gladly given to congregations and church agencies for local, nonprofit use. Just include this copyright notice: “© Copyright 2010, Rev. Robert Blezard, www.stewardshipoflife.org. Used by permission.” Other uses inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.