The Congregation at Duke University Chapel


photo of Andrew

I’ve been learning to pray with my eyes open.

Perhaps, like me, you grew up with a sense that prayer was something you did with your eyes closed, your head bowed, and your hands folded.

In this posture of prayer, the goal was to distance yourself from distractions and empty your mind of what was not the topic of prayer.

This kind of prayer, sometimes called apophatic, is a way of prayer by negation, stripping away all of those things that distract us from the God whose name is pure Being: I AM WHO I AM. This is the way of centering prayer, of focusing on God as close to me as breath. And it has powerfully shaped my life in God for many years. I imagine it has shaped your life as well.

In the past few months, however, I have felt out of balance spiritually. I have felt my eyes wander in prayer, and a growing sense that my run-away imagination may not always be an obstacle to prayer, but an invitation to another kind of prayer. Slowly, I have begun spending more time praying with my senses, with my eyes wide open.

This kind of prayer, sometimes called kataphatic, is prayer by the way of affirmation, embracing God’s presence within all that we can sense: the God who we can see in the face of Jesus Christ. This is a way of imaginative prayer, of icons, ritual, and finding God written in the “Book of Creation.” Praying with my eyes open has brought a renewed balance to my life with God, a wholeness that has been missing.  I wonder if it might bring a wholeness to your life in God as well.

If your life, like mine, has been shaped primarily by praying with your eyes closed, open them up! Contemplate an icon, or listen for God’s whisper in music or the sound of the wind. Or if your life has been shaped primarily by praying with your eyes open, maybe God is calling you to a time of focused awareness, of emptying your mind in order to fill it only with God’s presence.

Eyes open or shut, let’s walk together this pilgrimage of prayer.

Grateful for your partnership in prayer,