Embodied Prayer – Welcome

Stuff sputters in our heads. Like corn kernels popping out, into, over, and beyond the bowl, words, thoughts, and information pop, pop, pop. Emotions roll back and forth, bumping into each other. Sadness sighs and sags. Anger flares up. Fear fidgets, fingering wounds, circling questions, pushing to fight or flee. All the more so now, stuff sputters from pandemic-related grief, trauma, and weariness. We are holding so much. Life is hard, and it can be hard to pray.

Often, we keep the stuff sputtering inside our heads as with a tight mental lid: separating it from the rest of the body.[i] In 2015, I began practicing InterPlay, a system of facilitated group improv movement and storytelling. It’s a bit like recovery for serious people, helping us relearn how to play and connect with our whole bodies. I have been learning about that tight metal lid and opening it to witness and release what comes out.

Pre-pandemic, guests often arrived at the monastery looking haggard and worn. We welcomed them with the invitation to slow down. The advice we shared with guests here can apply just as well to what you can do at home, or wherever you find yourself. Try doing one thing at a time. Rather than multi-tasking, try doing one thing at a time. Remember who you are as a human being by doing nothing. Savor food and drink. Pay attention to what catches your attention. Don’t just look. Stop to linger and gaze. I always give guests permission to sleep, encouraging them to indulge in this retreat trinity: go to bed early, sleep in, and take a nap. Take the rest your body wants, not how you force it to behave.

God created us in bodies. God lived among us fully human. God still comes in and through our humanity, especially in our bodies. As you would on retreat, remember and honor the physicality of grace in your daily life.[ii] Stopping, sleeping well, savoring, and gazing help restore the freedom and felt-sense of unmerited favor. Satiated, well-rested, and still, we are better prepared and open to hear what God is saying.[iii]

I hope this program helps facilitate your prayer with simple practices. Each section has a short video and questions for meditation, then teaching and suggested practices.

I draw from my personal journey of learning to pray more with my body and from leading retreats at our monastery and for various dioceses and parishes. I enjoy praying outside gazing at trees and water … and in front of a fire. I took the opening meditation videos at Emery House, our rural site in West Newbury, and along the Charles River next to us in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

If you are able and it is helpful to think of entering a time of retreat, you might read this about how to make a retreat at home and then use this program for ways to pray on your retreat: https://www.ssje.org/2019/03/31/retreat-at-home/

Whether for five minutes or for a whole day, whether amid the ordinary or an intentional time of retreat, take some time to be with God. Here are the first invitations: stop, sleep, and savor. Take a couple small steps to slow down and breathe. Be still with a cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. Savor your choice. Gaze at a fireplace or out the window. Notice what your body wants. Slow down to listen, to pay attention to love. This program invites the physicality of grace to embody our prayer.


Br. Luke

[i] Cynthia Winton-Henry (2016) Move: What the Body Wants Kelowna, BC: Wood Lake, p157.
[ii] Cynthia Winton-Henry (2009) Dance—The Sacred Art: The Joy of Movement as a Spiritual Practice. Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths, p38.
[iii] These paragraphs are from my “Playing Bodies, Praying Bodies” in SSJE’s Cowley Magazine, Winter 2021.

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