Last year, I adopted a body prayer as a Lenten practice. It’s impact on me was significant, so I continued the practice long after the season was over and decided to return to it this year. It is a simple, but powerful way to bring my attention to the present moment and my purpose in it. I forget those things constantly, so I can’t do it just once a day either. Rather, I set alarms on my iPhone in loose imitation of the monastic hours: 7:00 a.m., 10:00, 1:00, 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. As soon as my “bells” chime, I step outside, (or at least aside), and complete the prayer. Sometimes I have to delay for five, or ten minutes, but one of the greatest powers of the practice is in heeding the call when it comes – prioritizing being present in mind, body and soul – over whatever else I’m doing.
Here is the prayer, step by step.
1. I stand firmly on two feet, grounding myself. I focus on the stability of the earth beneath me, supporting me, lifting me up, and meeting me where I am. I take a deep breath and still my thoughts from wherever they’ve been, wherever I’ve been, just moments before.
My words: “Here I am, as I am, in this world, as it is.”
This position is my reality check. I came to pray, but I arrive distracted, perhaps even irritated, anxious, or tired. And the world is meeting me, full of its own pain, the never-ending cycle of human suffering. This step of the prayer acknowledges the inherent imperfection of life, but in this moment, it’s enough that I showed up. Pausing here for some deep breaths, I arrive fully. This is my response to Divine invitation to “come as you are” to experience the gifts of presence and connection. Nothing else is required.
2. From standing with hands at my side, I move them to “praying hands” and bow at the waist. I take a few moments to breathe deeply here (and in each position).
My words: “I bow to the wholeness and holiness of which I am a part.”
In this position, I acknowledge the perfection of the cosmos and its Creator, but also my own part in it. The universe is vast and mysterious, but I am not inconsequential to the unfolding of God’s plan. To the extent I am aware and available, I can contribute more productively to it. This is a moment of great humility and deep self-respect. I matter enormously and not at all.
3. With another deep breath, I move my arms into a V above my head and place my feet closer together. This is a gesture of welcome and receptivity.
My words: “I open myself to receive what the Universe has waiting for me this day.”
All that is good is generously offered to me each and every day: divine energy, love, compassion, grace, mercy, growth. It may not always look, or feel “good,” especially on bad days, or in times of deep suffering, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The very nature of God is a complete and total fountain-fullness of hesed, the Hebrew word for God’s unshakeable, steadfast, generous love. God can’t help but allow good things to rain down on the just and unjust alike.
I want hesed for myself; I want hesed for the world, but I cannot receive it without making room. A cup full of water can hold no wine, which takes me to the next words of my prayer in this position.
My words: “I empty myself of my agenda for this day.”
As I say these words, my mind brings forth all the other things I need to release to make room for God’s gifts and the possibility to love and be loved in surprising ways. My agenda is just my plan for the day, but there are also my attachments – the things I want to be true and the way I want things to go. And don’t forget my projections – who I think others should be, and how I think they should show up in the world. While we’re at it, let’s also release the fears that go around making all sorts of unconscious decisions that limit me, and the certainty that leads me to judge, reject and limit other people.
I can’t possibly welcome the mystery of God’s plan if I think I have everything figured out already, so my body takes the shape of a funnel – wide open to receive from above , while releasing anything that has its origin in my own smallest self.
4. I place my hands over my heart in a gesture of recollection and tenderness.
My words: “I acknowledge all that I have received.”
This is a moment of deep gratitude and recognition for the gifts I have been given. I feel my heart beat. In this moment, I am alive; I have breath. I have family; I have a home. I am safe and I am loved. I have felt the grace of God in my life and I see the ways it has shaped me. I pause for a moment of peace.
5. I throw my arms open wide and twist at the waist, back and forth, in a gesture of release.
My words: “I share all that I am and all that I have.”
This position seeks to balance the self-preoccupation of the previous gesture. I am not given those gifts, because I am special, or blessed, or uniquely deserving in anyway. They are not mine to hoard, but to give away, as freely and fiercely as I’m able. Honestly, when it comes to generosity, some days are better than others, but this gesture always reminds me of the poet Rilke’s plea to God: “May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back.”
Let go, let God, let goodness flow. Let me not merely be a recipient; let me be a conduit.
6. In this final posture, I place my hands at my side, touching my legs. I ground my feet into the earth once again. I feel more deeply rooted, more aware of the energy that flows through me.
My words: “I am here. I am home. I am Yours.”
Usually at this point, I can feel my mind start to wander back to where I was before, or ahead to where I’m going next, but these words stop me in my tracks. If I cannot be here, stay here, for one more moment, then what was the point?
I am here, as I am – in this world, as it is – and it is okay.
I am home – in my body, in this place, in this moment. Pardon the cliché, but I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
I am Yours – I don’t have to manufacture my own purpose, or figure everything out today. I simply know I belong – to Life, to Love, to Creation and the Creator of it all.
I know it sounds like a lot of time and effort, and honestly I do rush through the steps often enough, but at least a couple times a day, I go as slowly as I can, my face to the sun. In the video, I’m moving a little quickly, since I’m in a public space and Tim’s filming me. (He does not love public displays of prayer, or New Age-y body movements.) If you’re going to give it a try, find a quiet place where you can practice without self-consciousness! The song playing is called, “Ulysses” by Josh Garrels. I love that song and after hundreds of listens, it will forever call me back to myself.
P.S. Fr. Richard Rohr says that people ask him how long they should pray. “Pray until you get to YES,” he tells them, “That’s what I do.”
I’ve found this to be a really helpful version of a YES prayer. In each position, I’m invited to come to an authentic YES. I can hurry past it in any one step, but usually by the end, I have come to an acceptance of some truth about myself and how I’m showing up. Then I can decide what to do about it.
At its core, YES is humility.
YES is freedom and choice.
YES is an act of Love.
I want to thank Cynthia Bourgeault and the Wisdom Way of Knowing for teaching me their version of this prayer and their encouragement to “practice my practice” in my own way.