Lately, I’ve been trying to be more conscientious about how I pray.  I’ve been thinking especially about recollection and how I deal (or don’t deal) with distraction.

This might sound incredibly simple–maybe too simple–but I have found that the way I hold my hands can make a huge difference!  Holding my hands together, palms and fingers pressed flat against each other, really helps me focus.  It’s like my hands create a closed circuit, preventing any of my energy or attention from draining out of me.  If I sense a distraction, I just press my hands closer, take note of the pressure, and it sharpens my focus.  It all sort of happens automatically; I hadn’t really been aware of it before.

I find that it is a posture of composure and self-possession, and at the same time one of humility and gentleness.  I believe it is the posture of pledging fealty to one’s lord or superior–thus it is more than suitable for addressing The Lord.  I know that people in non-western cultures hold their hands that way, either in prayer, in greeting another, or in other circumstances.

Mary praying in orans postureI have also tried praying in the orans posture–hands raised, palms forward, like priests do at Mass when offering prayers on the people’s behalf.  In Eastern iconography, especially, we also see Mary and others praying in this posture.  This posture has a very different effect on me.  It makes me feel vulnerable.  It makes me think of Christ’s hands being nailed to the Cross.  It actually makes me a little squeamish, with a huge urge to close my fists or otherwise protect the palms of my hands!  Maybe it is different for the priests, but I have gained considerable respect for the way they pray in that posture so much.  I don’t know if I could stand doing that–but that’s a moot point, right?  ;)

I’ve seen people pray with their palms upward, either together or apart.  I see Catholics do this when they pray the Our Father during Mass.  I believe the Muslims often pray like that as well.  It appears to be a gesture of offering up.  I’m not in the habit of holding my hands that way.

And then there’s clasping the hands together in a kind of knot, which I sometimes do when I’m in anguish and/or am begging God for something.  A very intense posture.

What about you?  Do you ever think about what you do with your hands when you pray, and what effect it has on you and on your praying?

[UPDATE]: How could I forget?  Father V of Adam’s Ale discusses hands and prayer postures here, here, and here!