Sitting in church today, my Pastor invited us to pray with her to open the service. I immediately closed my eyes and a thought came to me as we began. Why do we close our eyes when we pray? I immediately opened my eyes and looked around. Most people were sitting there with their eyes closed. Why? When I pray by myself I almost always keep my eyes open. I look around at all the wonder around me and allow what I see to inspire me as I talk to Jesus. Now I know that as a child growing up we were always told to bow our heads and close our eyes. Now, according to my wife whose knowledge of the Bible is quite extensive, there’s no decree or command for us to close our eyes when we pray. According to her she feels closing our eyes discourages distraction during prayer. But I kind of disagree. When I close my eyes my mind can wander and, if I’m tired, I can almost fall asleep. But with my eyes open I feel engaged in the act of prayer.
Now I haven’t interviewed anyone but my wife but I would imagine that there are many reasons given for closing our eyes during prayer. At the root of all reasoning is probably because that’s what we were taught to do. It’s almost tradition. For some, tradition plays a very important role in their church attendance. I know folks who believe that a church service without hymnals or certain rituals like responsive readings isn’t church at all. I also know people who believe that God only approves of fancy clothes for church. These people are convinced that God shudders at the sight of casual clothing during service. I know that traditions are a large part of our lives and tend to lead us in making choices in every area of our lives, especially our relationship with Jesus. This is both comforting and worrying.
My relationship with Jesus is very important to me. It’s at the core of who I am. I revel in the knowledge that Jesus is always there and cares about my every breath. But if I’m honest I have to admit that this relationship has taken a shift in the last couple of years. The traditions I once clung to seem stifling now, like a straight-jacket that needs to be shed. I can’t honestly say that I miss many of those old traditions that, at one time, defined my walk with Jesus. If we’re really honest we have to admit that all relationships change and grow, take on new meaning and challenge us if we’re determined to see new growth and new insights. We can’t sit in traditions that we held as children and become adults that see things from an adult point of view. Even scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man or woman, I put the ways of childhood behind me. It’s a truth that we can’t really ignore. Relationships and people change with time. We grow and discover that what once felt comfortable now feels like constraint. So instead of clinging to tradition we need to bravely throw off those constraints and allow ourselves to experience something new which, I believe, gives Jesus license to take our relationship with Him to the next level.
I believe that Jesus desires to breathe new life into our lives. Once we feel that inspiration we are more likely to adopt new practices, serve our neighbors with more enthusiasm, and see within ourselves something new and valuable. We’ll be more apt to reach out to someone new or get involved in a something different. We’ll desire to connect more deeply with others and with Jesus. This newness will inspire us to keep our eyes open for all new possibilities. It will illuminate a path to a more intimate relationship with one another and with Jesus. And it might all start with refusing to close our eyes when talking to God.