As we’re dealing with the subject of “helps” to prayer in this series of ti morceaux, we’ve looked not only at posture but also at gestures which can aid us in our spirituality. Last week you’ll recall we considered the position our hands can take, typically folded or open. Both are very expressive ways to enter more completely into communication with God.
There’s something else we can do with our hands, too. It’s so basic we often underestimate its importance. In fact, it’s something we’ve been doing since we were children: we can “hold onto” something!
I know immediately the thing that probably came to mind just now is the rosary: fingering the beads of the rosary as we pray is a bodily way not just of “keeping count” of where we are but by “keeping our hands busy” we also enrich the experience of prayer. Remember, “bodily involvement,” even if in a little way, heightens our experience of just about anything. We humans are, to use high-falutin’ theological language, “corporeal beings,” so that our senses (sight, hearing, etc., – and in this case especially touch) both inform us and form us.
In fact, I suggest that all of us incorporate more touch into our prayer and worship. One of my “prize” possessions is a small olive-wood cross from the Holy Land that I keep in my pocket: it’s reassuring to me just to hold it for a moment in lifting my heart up to God in prayer. Retreat-masters have frequently urged us not only to pray before the crucifix but even to hold one during prayer, while contemplating the sufferings of the Lord Jesus for us. And of course, for those who prefer to take Holy Communion “in the hand,” is there any more gentle and profound a gesture than cradling the Sacred Body of Our Lord at that very moment?
And why stop at touch? Consider what other small gestures can speak to the heart and spirit. You’ve probably noticed the priest and deacon kissing altar upon entering and leaving the sanctuary in church; I’ve seen people kiss their missals and prayer-books when opening or closing them, perhaps in imitation of the Book of the Gospels being kissed at Mass after that reading.