A View from the Pew: Eyes Wide Open

Pew_smThere are many postures for prayer in Christianity, but nearly all of them involve closing your eyes.

I followed the eye-closing rule for prayer in church dutifully until my twenties. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I adopted an occasional practice of glancing around the sanctuary during corporate prayer. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but I stumbled on to a spiritual practice that I have found meaningful.

I do not advocate keeping your eyes open during prayer all of the time. The reasons to close your eyes during prayer are well documented and valid: blocking out distractions, focusing on God, hearing the words and contemplating their meaning and application to your life, giving space for mental imagery and allowing others to physically respond to prayer the way they are led without feeling self-conscious.

Here are five benefits I believe you can derive from keeping your eyes open during prayers at church:

1.) You can see God. I don’t mean you can see God literally and physically, but you can see literally and physically the results of God’s work. Depending on your setting, you can be prompted for deeper, more heartfelt praise if you think about the connection to God of everything you lay eyes on. This can be especially helpful in a church setting in which the sanctuary is a beautiful and God-honoring space.

2.) You connect with fellow believers. In the film “Shadowlands,” C.S. Lewis, played by Anthony Hopkins says, “We read to know we are not alone…”. When I look around the congregation during corporate prayers, I have that profound reinforcement that I am not alone on my faith journey. Whether I know the private struggles of my fellow worshippers or I am inspired by the example of their lives, seeing people in prayer grounds me in the community and reminds me that the body of Christ has many parts.

3.) Your intercessions grow beyond yourself. If you ever find yourself stuck in a pattern of only praying for yourself and your own cares, then try opening your eyes during the next pastoral or offertory prayer at church and pray for everyone you see. The process of thinking of something to pray for, for each person, even those you do not know well, stretches your attentiveness and takes your focus off of yourself. Be careful, though, you may awaken compassion and empathy and be prompted to take action on behalf of your sisters and brothers.

4.) You recognize beauty. When you are praying outdoors, the rules are flipped. It’s almost expected that you would look around so you can focus on the wonders of God’s handiwork. Seeing natural beauty calls forth richer prayers with more sincere appreciation for God’s creativity. But even when you are in the confines of a church building, home, or other worship space, you can see beauty in ordinary things. I don’t mean that you ascribe beauty to plain objects. You simply see differently because you are in communion with God. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when you are talking with and listening to God, you naturally behold more beauty.

5.) You anticipate action. Prayer is typically a passive activity. You sit, kneel, or stand and talk internally or externally to God, or you listen to someone talking to God. Having your eyes open is a way of saying “God, I am ready to see what needs to be done.” In Kyle Matthew’s “See for Yourself” album, the song “Praying a Prayer” has always resonated with me. One lyric goes “Praying a prayer even I can answer.” When you pray with your eyes open, you begin to think about what can be done beyond praying to achieve the result you are seeking from God. Your prayer becomes less “God, please fix this” and more “God, show me what to do to fix this.” Often, praying is all we can do, but when we voice the words with our eyes open, we can figuratively and sometimes literally see how we can be the solution for someone’s cries to God.

So the next time the invocation has you bowing and closing your eyes out of habit, stop. Raise your head and look around the room. You may find that you see things you never imagined.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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