Praying with Eyes Open (Part 1)

I don’t know about you, but I was brought up in a church setting where prayer demanded everyone bow their heads and close their eyes. Many times, in fact, as children, we would specifically be told to do so. Sometimes folding of hands would be added into the mix, especially at times when we would be prone to fidget.

As adults, many of these things stayed with us. As I was sitting in church this past week, it struck me how automatically the heads bowed and the eyes closed when the leader said, “Let us pray.” Why do we still hold to this tradition?

In asking this question, I readily consider from where this tradition has come, and say that it must be that we too easily become distracted. Buddhists have a term for this proneness to diversion: “Monkey brain.” While meditating, it is too easy to become distracted with other thoughts, the chattering, visible (and just as quickly invisible once again) monkeys that vie for our attention. So those from this tradition tend to use mantras to clear their head of all untoward thoughts, or focus on the word “Om” as to draw attention from everything to the one most important thing.

Yet, though I see the sense in this avoidance of distraction, I can’t help but think that we live in the midst of a noisy, invasive, distracting world, and God does not call us to avoid its call for our attention as much as God wants us to bring all that distraction into our prayers, being reminded that our complicated life in all its noisome circumstance is what reminds us of our need for the Sacred. Rather than distracting us from the Divine, what is happening around us in the moment should be reminding us that, even amid the mob of “monkeys,” God is listening. And maybe, through what we too often consider distracting, God is speaking.

But have we become so accustomed to only hearing God in the still small voice that we can no longer make out God’s voice amidst the regular rattle and hum of life?

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2 thoughts on “Praying with Eyes Open (Part 1)

  1. I was also very definitely taught to close my eyes and bow my head when praying as a child. And was told off when I didn’t. When I was very young I thought if I peaked I might see God coming into our midst.
    Now that I am older and on a return journey to Christian faith, I find I have many modes of prayers.
    There are times when eyes closed, centred and almost meditative is right. These times include prayer groups meetings and prayers of intercession in church.
    Other times I am moving in and out of prayer as thoughts jumble through my mind as I walk to work or walk the dog. Its a kind of chattery dialogue with God. Come to think of it, the kind my daughter has with me.
    And then there is the awake at 3 in the morning prayer when I lying awake in bed fretting about life and desperately trying to trust God to lead the way forward.
    I would like to say I have found quiet contemplation and deep meditation. But I am not sure my mind is wired for that.
    So I agree, prayer has many colours and rhythms and postures and we need to find what works for us. The most important thing is we do it, not how we do it.

    • David, I struggle many times with contemplation because I am so easily distracted. (I think that, if I were a child today, I would be diagnosed with ADHD.) You’re absolutely right about the many modes of prayer, and within those modes there are many levels and objects of awareness: sometimes we may be rather self-centered or introspective, other times we may focus on God, or on others, or on our relationships with others… In the end, it’s not so much the how or even the what but the why and the who. Thanks for your very thoughtful comment.

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