This is the 19th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.” The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (VI).
The Tradition governing attitudes towards prayer and guiding how to pray is quite ancient in Christian history. Very early on Christians saw themselves as men and women of prayer. They believed that to be human was to be a person of prayer. They believed humans were created to be priests of God: our task was to consecrate the earth to God. That is the role Adam and Eve lost by choosing their own sinful way rather than living in love and obedience to God. In Christ, humanity is restored to its role as microcosm and mediator of the universe. We are again able to offer up to God our prayers as priests on behalf of the entire creation.
Here is a quote from Origen (d. ca 254AD). Origen died as a Christian martyr. He was arguably the greatest Christian biblical commentator of the 3rd Century. He was a creative writer and his speculations were in later generations condemned as heretical. But he also left volumes of insightful Christian teachings and his writings minus his speculations were influential in later generations of Patristic writers. Here he comments on prayer:
“’Certainly there are countless attitudes of the body, but that in which we stretch out our hands and lift our eyes to heaven is to be preferred for expressing with the body the dispositions of the soul during prayer.
That at least is the way we should act when there are no obstacles.
But circumstances may lead us to pray sitting down, for example when we have a pain in the legs; or even in bed because of fever.
For the same reason, if for example we are on board ship or if our business does not allow us to withdraw to perform our duty in regard to prayer, it is possible to pray without taking up any particular outward attitude.
In regard to kneeling for prayer, this is essential when we are accusing ourselves of our sins before God and entreating him to heal and absolve us.
It symbolizes the prostration and humility of which Paul speaks when he writes: “for this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” (Ephesians 3:14)
That is spiritual kneeling, so called because every creature adores God in the name of Jesus and prostrates itself humbly before him.
The Apostle seems to be alluding to this when he says: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10).
As for the place, you should realize that every place is suitable for prayer . . .
however, in order to pray undisturbed it is possible to choose a particular place in one’s house, if practicable, as a kind of hallowed spot, and to pray there.’ (Origen…)”
(Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 196)
It is true that we are to pray without ceasing, but to achieve that we have to set aside time consciously and conscientiously to pray.
Next: Praying (VIII)