For a few months now, I’ve put a lot of thought into the fact that prayer is not a retreat from the world, but is rather engagement with the world. Prayer is not a time where I escape this earth and ascend to a heavenly throne removed from this earth, but is rather plea for God to have his will “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Sometimes the practical implications of my abstract theological musings hit me at odd times. A few weeks ago I was praying with a group of medical missionaries we were sending off. We stood in a circle, held hands, heads bowed, and eyes closed, praying to our Father on behalf of the missionaries and those to whom they would be ministering.
During that prayer time, the thought occurred to me, “I wonder who started the tradition of closing eyes and bowing heads during prayer.”
It seems to me that if prayer really is engagement with the world, then prayer ought not primarily be done with eyes closed – as if it’s just me and God without the world – but should be done with our eyes wide open, allowing the physical, tangible, gritty, earthy world in which we inhabit serve as a catalyst for more and more prayer.
In the last few weeks I’ve tried to practice this Praying with My Eyes Wide Open kind of prayer, and I think it’s really helped a lot. My prayer life becomes less like a personal, private list of things, and more like a constant, flowing communion with God, with each moment of prayer sparked and revived by seeing some aspect of God’s hand at work in the world, in the moment, in the person right in front of me.
Don’t get me wrong, because of the prayer-culture (is that a thing?) of bowing our heads and closing our eyes, I still bow and close when I’m praying with other people. After all, who wants to be the creepy guy looking around when everyone else is bowed and closed?
But, still, I wonder if this prayer-culture shouldn’t be challenged – or at least rethought. Prayer is not a removal from this world, it’s is an engagement with the God who inhabits the world. It seems to me the implication is obvious: We ought to be praying with our eyes wide open. Especially if we believe the posture of our physical body in any way reflects the posture of our spirits.
Your Turn: Have you ever thought about praying primarily with your eyes open? How do you think this changes our approach to prayer, God, and the world?