I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Laurie Klein’s reflection on using playful gestures for prayer.
I wanted to play more. Ultimately, a childhood diversion beckoned.
‘Busy hands are happy hands,’ my mother always said.
Raised to work hard at everything, I’ve been productive over the years but often at great personal cost. Excessive intensity wears a girl down.
Other people seem to delight in each step toward their goals, a pleasure I find inspiring. And contagious. As a fellow monk in this dangerous, everyday-falling-around-our-ears-world, I want to step lightly. I long to filter the gravitas of purposeful work through generous handfuls of joy. Spontaneity. Childlike vision.
So, I’m trying to bring play into my work.
Tapping the spritely energy of play generates something more alive—in my process, the end product, and in me.
Brother David Steindl-Rast reminds me that play ‘works’ because it’s meaningful. And for me, it unknots something within, loosens those self-imposed seams I construct to protect myself.
Play not only frees, it heals. In response to one of Christine’s writing prompts, I wrote these lines to remind myself how I want to view life:
How to Live Like a Backyard Psalmist
Wear shoes with soles like meringue
and pale blue stitching so that
every day you feel ten years old.
Befriend what crawls.
Drink rain, hatless, laughing.
Sit on your heels before anything plush
or vaguely kinetic:
hazel-green kneelers of moss
waving their little parcels
of spores, on hair-trigger stems.
Hushed as St. Kevin cradling the egg,
new-laid, in an upturned palm,
tiptoe past a red-winged blackbird’s nest.
Ponder the strange,
the charged, the dangerous:
taffeta rustle of cottonwood skirts,
Orion’s owl, cruising at dusk,
thunderhead rumble. Bone-deep,
scrimshaw each day’s secret.
Now, lighting the sandalwood candle,
gather each strand you recall
and the blue pen, like a needle.
Suture what you can.
I find that absorbing regular doses of wonder equips me to better mend this hurting world. Which makes me wonder: What if work and play are kissing cousins, rather than twins separated at birth? Maybe they’re meant to play tag. Even hold hands, at times.
Whatever the task, I want to kneel often, and marry the moment with the abandon of that hatless, laughing kid in the rain.
Can I bring play into prayer?
My mother used to calm my fears with a fingerplay.
‘When you’re afraid,’ we spoke in unison. Then, from pinkies to thumbs, each of us touched our fingertips together, pair by pair, adding one word for each motion: “Put – your – trust – in – God.” The fingerplay soothed and refocused me.
A childish diversion? Sure. But I still use it when late-night anxiety assaults my thoughts.
One day my body decided to take Mom’s anodyne further.
My personal theme for last year was “Extend Your Orbit.” Intending to prop penned reminders of this around the house, I wrote the phrase on numerous 3×5 cards. Afterward, my hands cramped. With no plan in mind, I interlaced my fingers over my heart, palms facing inward, then turned my linked hands outward, lifted and circled them over my head—a good stretch. (Try it right now?)
If you’re playing along, now expand the gesture, allowing the movement to come from your waist, gently swinging your raised, interlocked fingers in a larger circle.
Feel anything loosening?
I like to think that what arose spontaneously for me that day stems from my mother’s gift to me, all those years ago. It certainly distilled “Extend Your Orbit” into a wonderfully repeatable, wordless prayer. Now I begin most mornings this way.
‘Some love best with their hands,’ Annie Dillard once said.
Perhaps you’d like to try some of these universal gestures as a fresh means of prayer, with or without words:
- Use the French Voila! fingertips kiss, to acclaim the beautiful
- Brush palms past each other several times, to honor completion, or a boundary
- Salute the heavens as a pledge of obedience
- Blow a kiss skyward as a silent “I Love You”
- Applaud, audibly or silently
- Tenderly lift your chin with an index finger, and raise your eyes
- Tap your watch, then open your hand and lift it to God
Spontaneous movement waits within, ready to bubble up and surprise us.
You might also consider exploring sign language to find more motions that speak for you. Words like please, thank you, life, grow, joy, forgiveness, love, friend, Jesus, and compassion are easily learned, eloquent movements.
For illustrated ideas, click here >>
Does this idea beckon to you? I hope you’ll share your ideas for using gesture as prayer. I’d love to hear them! “
Laurie Klein plays with words as well as her hands to see what they’ll say next. She blogs at lauriekleinscribe.com, and her debut poetry collection, endorsed by Christine, is titled Where the Sky Opens. A past winner of the Thomas Merton Sacred Poetry Prize, she lives in the Pacific Northwest.