The Hebrew and Christian scriptures describe standing, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating oneself face down in prayer and worship.
O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! (Psalm 95: 6)
Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them (Numbers 20: 6).
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:36-39). The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989).
Modern Christian practice seems to have forgotten the body and limits prayer to an activity of the brain. Worshippers in liturgical churches stand for readings from the Gospels and Roman Catholics bow and kneel during Mass, but bowing, kneeling, and prostrating oneself is not taught or practiced in most churches. The most common posture in worship is sitting to listen and standing to sing. And the standing is meant to give the diaphragm space to improve singing more than it is an act of worship. Muslims, in contrast, have kept alive the practice of physical prayer with their rituals of standing, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating in worship five times per day.
I became serious about praying about 12 months ago. Muslims are the modern experts on physical prayer and I considered calling the imam at the North Fulton Islamic Center to ask if he would teach me physical prayer because listening to experts is one of my habits. I never got around to calling him, but did show up when the Islamic Center held Visit a Mosque Day and invited anyone who wanted to come. I got to sit in the back of the room and observe prayers at sunset during my visit. Now I have my own prayer rug and have begun to include bowing, kneeling and prostrating myself in prayer at least once per day. I think that praying physically five times per day might be good, but my first goal is to make it to physical prayer twice per day.
In Part II, I will describe how I have been combining physical prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.