Thursday, May 14, 2015

Prayer Pet Peeve

If I hear one more Ordained Minister, especially a Seminary educated PC(USA) teaching elder, or even a presbytery trained Commissioned ruling elder, invite people to pray by saying “Please bow your heads in prayer” I think I will scream.  I might just yell out “Not everyone bows their heads when they pray and there are various positions for prayer.” Ordained ministers and trained worship leaders ought to know better and be more inclusive by recognizing that there are various postures for prayer.

orans  ('"praying") position
Some people may indeed bow their heads with eyes closed or open when they pray but other people may look up or straight ahead with eyes closed or eyes open. Some people pray with hands uplifted as in the ancient orans position. Others pray, as I often do in public and in private, with open hands at waist level, a praying posture that seems to me to be a gesture of both offering as well as receiving. Just before The Prayers of the People in The Service of the Lord's Day I say "I invite you to find a stable and comfortable posture for prayer and to focus your heart and mind upon God," an invitation to prayer that suggests people may pray in whatever position works for them.

When I am about to celebrate the Eucharist I sometimes tell worshippers that the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving is a “heads-up, eyes-open kind of prayer” (See The Companion to the Book of Common Worship, edited by Peter C. Bower, page 64.) and that they ought to prayerfully observe what is happening at the table as we pray. If their heads are bowed down for the Great Thanksgiving they will not see what is happening at the table.

If you want to invite people to pray with you why not simply do so by saying “Let us pray.” Such a call to prayer invites people to pray whatever way they feel comfortable praying without feeling compelled to bow their heads or ostracized by not bowing their heads. After all, words do have meaning, and if I hear you say “Please bow your heads in prayer” I assume that is what you really mean because you do not know any better. If all you mean is “Let us pray together” then say so.

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