Present with God
Await, allow, accept, attend. These are the four poses Julian of Norwich practiced for body prayer.
“Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) was a Christian mystic and anchorite (a religious recluse) at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England,” according to the Rev. Christine Kass, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua, 3005 S. Front St.
An ancient practice, body prayer is movement mixed with prayer. Kass, who has been pastor of First Presbyterian for almost two years, will soon start a body prayer class online.
“The 14th century was a really dark time, between the bubonic plague and the Hundred Years’ War, and it was during that time that Julian of Norwich found a connection to God through a series of poses - similar to yoga - that she called body prayer,” Kass explained. “During this time, she developed a belief in a forgiving God who radiated love, rather than the angry, cruel God in which most of her contemporaries believed.
“Seeing God as loving and forgiving, as Julian of Norwich did, really resonates with so many people today,” Kass said.
In addition to the await, allow, accept and attend poses, Kass said body prayer has evolved in many other different ways. For example, other poses and movements are expressed during this type of class. She added there are as many ways to conduct this practice as there are ways to pray.
“Now it’s something that people often find their own way to practice,” Kass said.
In the four original poses, “await” involves cupping your hands at the waist, ready to accept God’s presence. When practicing “allow,” you reach your hands up to welcome God. During “accept,” you stand with your hands together at your heart, acknowledging you are open to whatever may come. Lastly, “attend” involves having your hands outward with your palms open. This mean you promise a readiness to take action on what has been given.
“During this class, we will be learning different poses, and participants will be encouraged to try others on their own,” Kass said. “For some people, taking a walk while being in quiet communion with God is body prayer. For others, it’s finding postures that work for [them]. Sometimes people offer spoken prayers to God while doing different body prayer movements. For others, it’s not about actually speaking but more a time of meditation while moving the body.
“There really is no right way or wrong way to practice body prayer,” Kass added.
Kass emphasized that while some poses may be similar to yoga, body prayer is not physically challenging. You do not have to have great physical strength to practice it. Body prayer can also be done while seated.
How does one develop a passion for body prayer? For Kass, it started when she was at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem. With her master of divinity degree, she had a concentration in spiritual formation. During her time at seminary, she studied and practiced several facets of body prayer.
“It’s something I have wanted to bring into our church for some time. With the pandemic ongoing, it seems people are looking for new things to get involved with and keep themselves active. Body prayer seems to me a perfect fit right now,” Kass said.
Exercise, meditation and movement of all kinds help people in different ways. For Kass, practicing body prayer helps her keep focused on praying and draws her closer to God, she said. Kass compared herself to a lot of others - her mind is always on, she deals with stress, and she has a to-do list to complete. Sometimes when she prays, keeping her mind from wandering is a challenge.
“When I practice body prayer, the movement involved keeps me focused by getting my body, as well as my mind, involved in communing with God,” Kass said.
To teach body prayer, no certification is necessary. However, Kass said learning it from someone who practices it is a good idea.
When it is safe to do so, Kass plans on holding the class in person. Until then, she said, the class will most likely be held in the late afternoon on Thursdays for 30 minutes on Zoom. Four people have signed up so far, but Kass said others have expressed interest. The class is planned for six weeks. After the last week, if more are interested, she will begin the class again.
If interested in joining the body prayer class, email Kass at email@example.com or call/text at 484-597-2005. There is no charge for the class.