What Does it Mean to Close Your Eyes in Prayer?
Not long ago some of our family was gathered at an Uncle and Aunt’s home for dinner. We had a discussion about prayer and why we close our eyes – and a lot of other things – because a cousin of Dale’s has been at college and attending a new church. They do things differently than how the cousin grew up doing things and he had interesting questions and viewpoints that we all eagerly started considering. It was great! We didn’t come to any conclusions but that question of “Why would we close our eyes when we pray?” has stuck with me on a mental back burner.
I don’t think our Creator Father cares! That’s been my main camp for years. Since having children I’ve thought, “Well, it’s a FANTASTIC way to teach self-control.” So Dale and I train our little ones from 6 months or so to fold their little baby hands, close their eyes and bow their heads during prayer. That really means that one of us helps fold their hands for 4-5 months until they start doing that automatically and then we help them bow their little heads and lastly…the hardest, they learn to close their eyes. Our little girl, at 3 and a half, is still working on this one. It’s not easy – she has to choose to close those eyelids and keep them closed.
But I think I have missed the whole point! Like, big BIG missing the point. Really.
1. I still think God doesn’t mind either way.
2. I still think it’s a very easy, habitual way to train little people to control their bodies.
But what if closing your eyes when you pray is about other people?
Consider with me: When you go shopping at Fred Meyer for groceries, do you stop and close your eyes for 2 minutes while holding on to your cart in the meat department? Or when you are at work at a meeting, do you close your eyes for 30 seconds? What if you are at the gym working out? No, why not?
If you are alone, you close your eyes perhaps to think, or to rest your eyes. Maybe you are overwhelmed and you need to shut out all the sights and sounds of life. But if you are with others, it is unusual to close your eyes for longer than a blink. In fact, if someone did that, you would ask them if they are alright. It is a sign of sickness, or extreme exhaustion, or perhaps deep emotional distress.
There’s one place where people all around the world, in every faith tradition, practice closing their eyes in group settings: places of worship.
I believe it’s because it builds trust and promotes community in a concrete way. If I close my eyes in a room, it’s because I believe no one will steal my stuff or attack me or kidnap my children. Postures of worship also promote the physical vulnerability of the individual: kneeling, bowing the head, singing, holding hands, eating together…we choose to put ourselves in these moments showing our trust in those with us.
So now I realize I'm in this camp - the camp of purposely Choosing to Trust Another Group of People Who Are Not Related By Blood.
What do you think? Did you already know this and are scratching your head at why it took me this long to come to the realization? I'd love to hear your thoughts.