Posture, Pondering and Prayer
If you walk into a classroom and find the students sitting up straight or even leaning a bit forward on their desk, what would you assume? Most likely you would think they are being attentive and are interested in the lesson. Walk into the same class room and observe the same students hunched over or with their chins in their hands and you would think they look bored. One’s posture can tell a lot about what is going on inside. Researchers suggest open posture involves keeping the trunk of the body open and exposed and suggests friendliness, openness and willingness. Closed posture keeps the trunk of the body obscured or hidden often by hunching forward and keeping the arms and legs crossed. This type of posture can indicate of hostility, unfriendliness, and anxiety.
Physical posture often gives an idea of what is going on inside – what a person is thinking or feeling. In prayer this can be true as well. We might lift our hands in praise and fall to the ground prostate in anguish as we seek God, for example. In the Bible, we find a number of postures written about for when we come before God:
- Standing (Genesis 24:12-14)
- Bowing down (Exodus 34:8)
- Sitting (Judges 20:26)
- Placing the head between the knees (1 Kings 18:42)
- Facing the temple (Daniel 6:10)
- Prostrate (Matthew 26:38-39)
- Kneeling (Mark 1:40)
- Pounding on the breast (Luke 18:13)
- Looking up toward heaven (John 17:1)
- Lifting the hands (1 Timothy 2:8)
More important than our physical posture is the posture of our heart. When our hearts are attentive to see God around us and give him our undivided, undistracted attention, we can hear what he has to say to us in a given moment (see “Daddy! Pay Attention!” for more). We should have a heart posture of submission or surrender; of gratitude and appreciation; of obedience. One heart posture we might not normally think of as prayer has been on my mind recently, pondering prayer.
The English word “ponder” comes from the Latin word pondus (meaning pound) which becomes ponderer in its verb form which gives way to our English meaning “appraise or judge the worth of”. It is a reflective rather than analytical way of thinking. We have an idea we chew on; we look at from different perspectives. It is a slow process. We let the thought bounce around carefully in our minds.
Pondering is not prayer in and of itself. But, writes David G. Benner, “Pondering becomes prayer when reflection arises in a mind that is open to God” (Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer, p. 88). He suggests several Psalms as examples of pondering prayer:
- Psalm 14 – David reflects on issues that trouble him deeply, questions without answers, and as he gives them space for thought he offers them to God.
- Psalm 15 – David wonders who can live in God’s tent or on his holy mountain and then prayerfully thinks through the one who can do this.
- Psalm 19 – David ponders the splendor of God’s creation.
- Psalm 49 – The psalmist considers life’s troubles and the uselessness of riches.
- Psalm 90 – Moses considers the human condition.
Benner writes (about his own book but it applies to this blog too), “This present moment as you read this page can be a prayer if it involves trusting openness before God. If it does, your reading is an opportunity to meet God” (p. 90). You see, the posture of our heart – am I open to God in this moment or just doing my thing – can make this activity prayer…for you, as you read; for me, as I type and as I read his chapter. While reading I was open to what God had for me in the pages – was it a truth I should pursue? a challenge to overcome? a false idea to be aware of? And long after I read, I was still pondering the words…how could I apply them in my life? What might God be inviting me to that I could connect more deeply with Him?
Benner suggests different ways pondering can become prayer. For example, our study of the Bible can become an act of prayer. He calls this “discursive meditation” where we “think about the passage, viewing it from many angles. We might first attempt to understand who wrote it and why. We might also try to understand who the intended audience was and what the purpose was for the writing. Once again, this sort of study is not automatically prayer because we can study Scriptures without openness of spirit” (p. 91). It is when we take a posture of openness and reflectively consider the passage before us that it becomes pondering prayer. Often a thought in Scripture will stick with me throughout the day. When I ponder it, wondering what about it God wants me to notice or practice or whatever, it becomes not just pondering but pondering prayer.
Other activities can become acts of prayer if we maintain openness to God. Journaling when it goes beyond simply recording facts and information to thoughtful consideration; prayerful reflection on experience; problem solving – nearly any activity that includes thoughtful pondering can become prayer. The key is whether we are open to God, sharing with him our thoughts and feelings with God in trusting openness. This is often in words, but can be my entire reflective process if in it I am open to God. “Trusting openness to God makes any moment a time of prayer. It is also what makes any hour or day an hour or day of prayer” (p. 97).
It’s such a subtle and in some ways very easy posture to take. Am I willing to be open to God, to be mindful of his presence and care for every part of my life because “…there is no part of us or of our experience God is not interested in” (p. 97). Benner reminds us that any time we are paying attention to God and inviting him to guide us, we need to obey what he says. “Pondering involves thinking, but it also involves paying attention to where that thinking leads me…(it) demands attention not just to the content issues that appear in the mind but also to the process ones that register on the heart” (p. 99). Do I find myself troubled? Elated? Convicted? Concerned? Confused? Resistant? I need to pay attention to what is going on in my heart and discuss these with God as well. The heart data can help point to deeper issues that need resolution as we seek clarity in our pondering. When we are open to God, his Spirit can help us discern what is going on.
Benner closes his chapter by writing, “Pondering prayer is responding to the invitation to bring your mind, heart and imagination to your communion with God” (p. 104). He suggests several ways to get started in the process. I offer two from his five suggestions on pages 104-106.
1. Talk with God about the things that have been heavy on your heart during your prayer times. He suggests praying something like “Lord, you know I have been thinking a lot about my finances I offer you that thinking.” Or “Lord, I am concerned about my mother’s health and unsure whether to advise her to undergo further chemotherapy. I offer you my thinking and concerns.” We often think about things throughout the day. We don’t often remember to invite God to be a part of that thinking.
2. When you are reflecting on some experience you had, invite God to be a part of the process. “Remember, bidden or not, God is already present. And anything that is on your heart and in your mind is an issue of importance to God.” Focus on the experience for a bit. Then, try to look at the entire situation through the lens of your faith. Are there any images or ideas that seem to point toward God? Are there any issues or values embedded in the situation? Do any biblical stories or verses come to mind? If there is something, how does it affirm or challenge the meaning and understanding you were forming of the experience? Are there deeper ethical issues at play? How might Jesus respond? Did he face a similar situation? How do things like sin, suffering, evil, grace, salvation or other theological ideas relate to this experience and influence your understanding of it? “These questions are one way of making space for theological reflection on experience. Doing so is pondering prayer.”
As one who desires very deeply to walk every moment in an awareness of God’s presence and to learn what it means to “pray without ceasing”, Benner’s chapter on “Prayer as Pondering” brings with it an invitation to invite Jesus more deeply into who I am; the experiences of my life; and my deepest places of thought and reflection. What does it say to you?