The orans prayer posture


I want people everywhere to lift their hands up reverently in prayer.
(1 Timothy 2:8; TIB).

Introduction

Jewish people have a long-established tradition of praying in the orans position. This means standing with the elbows close to the body, while the lower arms and hands are uplifted and extended. The practice is often mentioned in the Old Testament (eg Psalm 134:2; NLT, and Psalm 28:2; NLT). Early Christians were encouraged to pray in this posture by the apostle Paul (1 Timothy 2:8; TIB), but over recent centuries its use has declined in some denominations.

Orans means “one who is praying or pleading” (Wikipedia). For those who are in good health, standing to pray with uplifted arms may present no problems. However, for those who are sick, disabled or in pain, perhaps with limited balance, strength, or energy, this posture may seem too challenging to try. Fortunately, though, it can be adapted to suit individual needs.

This is important, as whatever our state of health, the orans posture offers a wonderful way of communicating with God. Furthermore, it can be particularly helpful when we are distressed, or afraid, or when prayer seems impossible.

The basic, free-standing orans posture

🌺 In the basic, free-standing orans position the feet are planted solidly on the floor, slightly apart. The elbows are tucked in at the waist, touching the sides of the body. The lower arms are extended forwards, upwards and outwards. The hands are gently cupped, facing each other, with the palms turned slightly upwards (see photo at the top of this article).

The significance of the orans posture for me

When I stand in the orans posture, I see my feet as being grounded on the base of a large triangle. I visualise the sloping sides of the triangle as running through the centre of each palm, just as the nails pierce Christ’s hands in many depictions of his crucifixion. The sides of the triangle continue upwards, meeting above my head. This creates a sacred space, whose apex is in heaven.

The orans position helps me to be more fully aware of God’s constant, loving and liberating presence within and around me, no matter how, or where, I am. It fosters a sense of co-creating, entering, and sharing a sacred space with God. Within this space, I consciously embrace my essential oneness and communion with our Lord (see Ephesians 4:5-6; NLT, and 2 Samuel 22:20; NIV).

Praying in this posture also reflects and expresses my intention to be completely open with myself and with God, who desires our honesty at all times. It facilitates a sense of sharing everything with God, who suffers with me, and of giving, as well as receiving (see Psalm 51:6; NLT, and Isaiah 63:9; NLT).

Adapting the orans position

As mentioned above, the orans posture can readily be adapted to fit individual needs. So, I would like to offer some examples of how it can be used whilst standing, leaning, kneeling, sitting and lying. There are several options for some body positions, each offering a little more support than the one before.

Leaning

🌺 Stand with your back to a wall. Position your heels a few inches away from the wall, with feet slightly apart. Lean back very slightly, allowing your shoulders to rest against the wall. Keep your elbows by your sides and raise your hands as for the free-standing position described above.

🌺
Stand facing a wall, with feet slightly apart, and a few inches away from it. Place your lower arms against the wall, leaning on them, so the wall helps to support your weight. Keep your back straight. You can also rest your forehead against the wall, if you wish. Bend your wrists slightly backward, so you can hold your hands away from the wall, cupping them as shown in the photo below.

🌺 Lean your thighs or hips against a solid support, such as the edge of a dining table or the front of small chest of drawers. Position your arms and hands and arms as for the free-standing position.

🌺 Stand two or three inches away from a solid chest-high piece of furniture, such as a tall-boy. Lean your abdomen and chest against it, then lift your arms and hands into the orans posture, as in the photo below.

Kneeling

🌺 Kneel, facing a hard chair, or bed. Keeping your elbows by your sides, rest the sides of your extended hands on the support in front of you. If the surface is too low, use a pillow to raise it to a comfortable level.

Sitting

🌺 Sit up reasonably straight on a hard chair. Keep your elbows by your sides and feet flat on the floor, slightly apart. Rest your lower arms on your thighs, cupping and tilting your hands, as before. Place a pillow across your lap if you need to raise the level.

🌺 Sit back comfortably in an armchair, whilst adopting the orans position with your arms and hands. Use a pillow on your lap if you need to raise the level, as below.

🌺 Sit with your legs raised, using a footstool, or reclining chair. Rest your arms and hands on your thighs, or on a pillow, as before.

NB Sitting in the orans posture is particularly useful if you want to pray discreetly during a meeting, conversation or argument, whilst travelling, watching TV, relaxing etc. If you are sitting at a table, you can keep your arms and hands below it in the core position. If there is no table, place a jumper, coat, or newspaper on your lap, then position your lower arms and hands underneath it, so you can pray privately, even though you are with others.

Laying

🌺 Lay on the floor or in bed, with a pillow supporting your head and neck, feet slightly apart, and arms by your sides. With relaxed shoulders, rest your elbows on the floor or mattress, whilst placing the sides of your hands on the tops of your thighs. The hands are tilted slightly upwards and cupped, as always. You can keep them above or below a blanket, or the bedclothes.

🌺 Lay on the floor or in bed, as above, but this time place your elbows a few inches away from your sides. If you are in bed, your upper arms and elbows cab rest on the bedclothes. Bend your elbows, raising your lower arms until the backs of your cupped hands rest on the pillow beside your head, as illustrated below.

🌺 Lay flat on the floor or in bed. This time, keep your arms relaxed by your sides. Let the backs of your hands rest on the mattress, a few inches away from your thighs. Keep the hands cupped, with palms tilted gently upwards and towards each other, just as before.

Notes

Be creative when you pray in the orans position:

Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset (Exodus 17:12; NLT).

Lean or sit on whatever solid surface is nearby, for support. Prop up your arms, wrists, or hands with pillows. If you get cold whilst standing, leaning, or kneeling, wrap a blanket loosely around you, tucked in at the waist. Use a blanket or duvet to keep warm whilst sitting or lying down.

You can look gently upwards, or straight ahead, or bow your head, just as you wish. Your eyes can be open or closed. If you wish to, make the sign of the cross before you begin, and kiss your fingers, blessed through prayer, when you end. Keep on praying, even as you move out of the orans position to continue with your daily activities. Allow yourself to improvise, doing whatever feels most helpful, appropriate and expressive at the time.

Whether your prayers last for moments, minutes or hours, make sure you are as relaxed and comfortable as possible. It’s fine to change from one body position to another, just as you feel the need. Don’t push yourself to maintain the posture for longer than you want to, or are able to manage comfortably. The most important thing is to experience the sense of space, peace, love, safety, openness, freedom and communion with God offered by this posture.

Lastly, you can adapt the orans attitude to your personal needs. For example, when praying at my shrine, which is on a tall chest of drawers, I lean against the chest, positioning my hands just above some of the small items at the front of the shrine. In this way, I become part of the shrine, which I find particularly helpful.

Similarly, when walking outdoors with my rollator, I can pray whilst holding the handles with cupped hands, keeping my fingers, slightly curled, resting safely on the brake levers. Walking with my hands in the orans position in my pockets would have a similar effect. Alone, in the house I can walk about freely with my hands in position as I go, even whilst carrying light objects.

When saying grace, I can rest my lower arms on the edge of the table, lifting my wrists and hands into the orans position to bless God’s gifts.

Even if I only have one hand free, I can still pray mindfully, for example, whilst cleaning my teeth. There are countless personal variations like this to discover, develop, enjoy and value for everyone who chooses to incorporate the orans posture into a life of constant prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17; NIV).

Praying in the orans posture

Whenever you use the orans posture, you might like to ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray (Romans 8:26-7; TIB). Then, with open hands, mind, heart and soul, you can share yourself completely with God as you pour out your prayers (Psalm 62:8; TIB). You can intercede for others, for the world, or for yourself. You can pray aloud, or in your head, or without using words at all, just as the Spirit moves you. Wordless prayer in the orans posture may be particularly helpful for those who want to pray, but find it impossible.

Conclusion

I very much hope that some of you will try praying in the orans posture, and that you will find it as liberating, comforting, helpful and fulfilling as I do. Whether our prayers are short or long, it offers a very effective way of consciously choosing to engage with God.


Acknowledgement 

My warmest thanks to Wikipedia for introducing me to the standing orans prayer posture.

God’s presence

I will lie down and sleep peacefully,
for you, Lord,
make me safe and secure
(Psalm 4:8; NET). 

1. I sleep in your presence,
Absorbing your love,
Soothed by your peace, Lord,
And safe in your arms.

2. I wake in your presence,
Suffused by your light,
Hearing your voice, Lord,
And learning your truth.

3. I rise in your presence,
Accepting each loss,
And, trusting your strength, Lord,
I take up my cross.

If any of you wants to be my follower,
you must turn from your selfish ways,
take up your cross daily, and follow me
(Luke 9:23; NLT).


References 

1. God is love (1 John 4:8; NLT).

He loves us with unfailing love (Psalm 117:2; NLT).

The Lord is peace (Judges 6:24; NLT). 

I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord (Ezekiel 34:15; NLT).

The everlasting Gods is a refuge, and underneath you are his eternal arms (Deuteronomy 33:27; NET).

2. When I wake up, you are still with me! (Psalm 139:18; NLT).

God is light (1 John 1:5; NLT).

God speaks time and again, but a person may not notice it (Job 33:14; CSB). 

The Spirit is truth (1 John 5:6; NKJV).

Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught (Luke 10:39; NLT).

3. Rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you (Acts 26:16; NKJV). 

Should we accept only good things from the hand of God, and never anything bad? (Job 2:10; NLT).

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21; CSB). 

Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you (Isaiah 30:20; NLT).

The Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength (Isaiah 26:4; KJV).

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy (Psalm 28:7; NLT). 

In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall (Psalm 18:29; NLT). 

My failing strength

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever 
(Psalm 73:26; NLT). 

Lord,
My failing strength declares
Your kindness,
For you hear my prayers,

Lord,
My fragile mind exalts
That you forgive
My sins and faults.

Lord,
My fainting heart adores
Your holy name,
For I am yours.

Lord,
My anxious soul reveres
Your presence,
For you calm my fears.

Lord,
My weary life depends
On your great love,
Which never ends.

The life of every living thing is in his hand,
and the breath of every human being.
(Job 12:10; NLT). 

He loves us with unfailing love.
(Psalm 117:2; NLT).

May I greet my death

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46; NIV).

1. May I greet my death
With open hands,
Leaving this troubled world
And life’s demands,
Quitting these lonely hills
And shining sands,
Ready to face
Your darkest shadowlands.

2. May I welcome death
Without dismay,
Leaving this worn-out body
To decay,
Longing to seek your presence
Straight away,
Closer to you, by far,
Than yesterday.

3. May I cross death’s sea
And step ashore
Into your waiting arms,
As you restore
My body, health, and strength.
Then I’ll explore
Our oneness, Lord, in love
For evermore.

🖤

We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16; NIV).


References

1. Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4; KJV).

2. The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).

If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me (Jeremiah 29:13; NLT). 

3. God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself (Psalm 49:15; NIV).

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20; NIV).

When we die and leave this earthly body …we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself (2 Corinthians 5:1; NLT). 

His unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth (Psalm 103:11; NLT).

I love you, Lord (Psalm 18:1; NLT).

 


 

Repentance

Repent of your sins and turn to God,
so that your sins may be wiped away.
(Acts 3:19; NLT). 

1. Lord,
I’m truly sorry for my sins:
Please help me
To apologise today.

2. Lord,
You know I’m sorry for my sins:
Be merciful –
Forgive me now, I pray.

3. Lord,
I’m deeply sorry for my sins:
Please let me feel your presence,
As before.

4. Lord,
You know I’m sorry for my sins:
Please strengthen me –
Then I will sin no more.

🖤

Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers?
Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
(John 8:10-11; NLT).

 


References

1. If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God (Matthew 5:23-4; NLT). 

2. Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognise my rebellion; it haunts me day and night (Psalm 51:1-3; NLT).

Forgive us our sins (Luke 11:4; NLT).

3. O Lord, you have driven me from your presence. Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple (Jonah 2:4; NLT). 

4. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit (Ephesians 3:16; NLT). 

Give your strength to your servant (Psalm 86:16; NLT). 

Why don’t people say to God, ‘I have sinned, but I will sin no more’? (Job 43:31; NLT).

 


 

I am seeking


Keep on seeking, and you will find.
(Matthew 7:7; NLT).

Jesus,
I am seeking:
Please let me feel your presence.

Mary,
I am thirsting:
Please let me share your faith.

Spirit,
I am listening:
Please let me hear your whisper.

Father,
I am searching:
Please let me see your face.

🖤

For now we see in a mirror indirectly,
but then we will see face to face.
(1 Corinthians 13:12; NET).


When you come

Your own ears will hear him.
(Isaiah 30:21; NLT).

Jesus,
May I sense your presence
When you come to set me free.

Jesus,
May I hear your voice,
Responding when you speak to me.

Jesus,
May I know your touch,
And revel in your warm embrace.

Jesus,
May I recognise you,
When, at last, I see your face.

🖤

Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognised him.
(Luke 24:31; NLT).

 


In birth (for C.)

The eternal God is our hiding place; he carries us in his arms.
(Deuteronomy 33:27; CEV).

In birth,
We have no sense of loss:
You keep us in your warm embrace.
Lord, we are always dear to you,
Safe in your mercy, love and grace.

In life,
Whatever we confront,
You carry us, and share each tear.
Lord, we are always close to you,
Even in sorrow, pain and fear.

In death,
We have no cause for dread:
You hold us, as we quit this flesh.
Lord, we are always part of you,
Despite our sickness and distress.

In bliss,
Our souls will see your face;
Your hands make whole; your presence calms.
Lord, we are always one with you,
Safe in your everlasting arms.

💙

The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you.
(Deuteronomy 33:27; NLT).

 


I breathe you in


He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person (Genesis 2:7; NLT).

I breathe you in,
And breathe you out;
Your presence makes me whole.

I breathe you in,
And breathe you out;
One body, and one soul.

I breathe you in,
And breathe you out,
No matter what you send.

I breathe you in,
And breathe you out, Lord God,
Until life’s end.

💛

I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.
(Psalm 146:2; NLT).

 


Open my eyes (#2 of 3)

Open my eyes so that I will observe amazing things from your instruction.
(Psalm 119:18; ISV). 

Lord,

Open my eyes, so I can see
The precious truths you offer me.

Open my eyes, so I may know
Your only Son, who helps me grow.

Open my eyes, so I will grasp
His presence in us all, at last.

🖤

Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
(Colossians 3:11; NLT).