Thursday, December 8, 2011

This will be of special interest to those who like to walk as prayer, and to those who struggle with walking as prayer!

Graham Cotter is an Anglican priest in Ontario. He writes a weekly column, mostly on science and religion. This particular one has an obvious relevance to our work of staying healthy spiritually. And an obvious relevance to Advent as preparing for embodiment.

My thanks to Don Grayston for passing this article on to me.




When I was teaching at University College in Toronto, every day I walked two miles west from Cabbagetown with that beautiful Norman tower as my goal. As I did so, I turned over in my mind the people and issues of the day: friends, colleagues, students, politicians, workers, the oppressed, the sick. With this I repeated either the Jesus Prayer (“have mercy”} the Lord’s Prayer, or the Glory to Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Morning was a good time for prayer.

In the years since then I have known and taught that prayer begins with adoration and thanksgiving to God, goes on to confession, prayers for others and petitions for myself. But the earlier method, just turning my mind to God with so many concerns in it, seems best. And now I am taught by one of my fellow pilgrims, that in her long or short morning walks as she brings her physical being into line and shape for the day, her prayers rise up as do her thoughts.

Where do prayers come from? Why does a pilgrimage seem so appropriate to prayer? Why do we make copies of the various labyrinths which arose in pagan worship, and use these to collect and recollect ourselves, as we move physically into our journey?

The context for prayer is God working in us, and in no less than our bodies: “human listening to God must begin where God begins in us, in the felt realities of our own bodies” (Diane Schneider,* doctoral thesis on Wellness and Holistic Theology, page 226). I wonder why I never heard much about our bodies and prayer in studying theology. Our mentors knew that our prayer life in the Church was one in which we moved, sat, knelt, stood, walked, perhaps raised our arms to model Jesus on the Cross, held our hands out for sustenance at Communion. All these actions were a kind of dance, but those actions when I studied theology were not associated with dance; dance was ballet or waltz or even the “twist”.

Theologians had little sense of our finding God through our bodies. Schneider remarks “the life experience of theologians over time has not included very much dance, yoga, listening to their own illness, or attention to the body, generally.” (230)

I now am more tolerant of those who find a place for prayer even in such fleshly pursuits as wrestling, competitive games, and of course, dancing. Even choir work requires tough physical dedication, and that is given a place of honour in our worship. I would add dance and acting dramatization of the Gospel, with loudness or whisper, and with music.

Moving our limbs in both old and new ways, alone or with others, provides new experiences of the reality we are equipped with within our bodies. According to Deane Juhan, (“Job’s Body: a Handbook for Bodywork” Station Hill Press, page xxvi) quoted by Diane Schneider: these experiences provide “new sensations, volumes of new data which the mind can scan in search for clues for new habits, new modifications, more constructive conditions” . In modes of dance, which we can compare with the interdependence on one another of jazz musicians, we can learn not only individually, but communally, of the realities which are beyond us if we remain isolated individuals.

A prayer adapted from the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church puts these corporate and communal experiences in the context of worshipping God, and of being blessed by one another in the gifts of God.


God our source and fountain head,

God who makes all our beginnings,

God, in whom we fashion our ends,

God, our Lover and Beloved:

Bless us by being ever with us in art,

music, drama and dance,

that we may perfect our praise

for you and your creation,

and that your beauty, which now we glimpse,

may we find forever unveiled in You.

*Diane Schneider may be found at <> or

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