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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Body and the Mystery of Prayer

If Christian prayer plummets dim but real reflections of eternal glory in the passing shadows of the world, it is because God has fashioned the world to contain mysteries beyond what is material and visible. By faith, everything becomes a sacrament that gives us God—even the most painful circumstances. Without faith, the human heart cannot ponder the uncreated love that sings in the silences of created things. Naked reason is deaf to the symphony that lifts up the heavens and the earth. Only faith hears the deeper harmonies of this life and sees visible signs of grace in those mysteries reason fails to grasp. Eyes opened in childlike wonder find icons through which heaven gazes on us.


Our bodies are themselves part of this sacramental mystery. The meaning of our very physiology is not exhausted by medical science. To be fit and healthy is good but only at the surface of what it means to be a human being. There is something sacred about our bodies themselves beyond their mere appearance. Not only do they express our image and likeness to God, but God Himself dwells in us in such a way that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of the most High God. By our flesh, we make visible that great mystery that would otherwise be hidden from sight. Even at the point of death, the love we express through our bodies allows the eyes of another to delight in the glory of God.


When it comes to prayer, a sanctuary needs to be commensurate with the reality of our bodies. Such a place must help our bodies express the praise of glory. To make visible what cannot be seen is why the physical places we gather to pray should be adorned with sacred art and solemn of architecture. God desires to enter the tabernacle of our hearts and so we must order physical things in the pattern of His Tabernacle, not made with human hands.


To enter deep into prayer, physical space and inner dispositions need to be brought into harmony. It is a matter of reverence, desire for the truth, gratitude for inexhaustible gifts, and hope for salvation. It is not easy to see the world by faith. The spiritual eyes of our soul remain close until we allow the Lord to wake us from our slumber. Then, we learn to gaze only by stages and in degrees.


What is more, this spiritual awakening is not simply a matter of our spirits but also our bodies—for our body expresses the reality of our hearts. Christ redeemed us body and soul—and what ever He does deep in the heart also takes up the mystery of our flesh and blood. He loves our whole humanity—and wants all the dimensions of our existence to stand before the Father.


This is where a well ordered physical sanctuary assists our hearts. What is in the visible, physical world that we touch with our hands and see with our bodily eyes can dispose the vision of our hearts to be open to invisible mysteries. With good teaching and reverence for the Lord, a space physically arranged to what is sacred, a space adorned with holy images, can help train us to see the world with the eyes of faith. Such a vision of reality ought to grow until even the most mundane and ordinary events disclose Divine Providence to our hearts.


Making visible what cannot be seen is why it is important to bless ourselves with holy water when we enter such a sacred space. It is why we genuflect to the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. It is why we bow before the Altar of the Lord. It is why we keep silence in such a sacred space. It is why candles are lit and sacred songs sung and the words of the Bible read and rites instituted by Christ offered. As we learn this reverence in such public sanctuaries in public prayer and bodily gestures, we also discover that every private place in our lives is a threshold for entering the presence of God.



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