I want people everywhere to lift their hands up reverently in prayer.
(1 Timothy 2:8; TIB).
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.
🌺 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.
🌺 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.
🌺 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.
🌺 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.
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.
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.
My warmest thanks to Wikipedia for introducing me to the standing orans prayer posture.