Do you pray with your eyes closed? I normally do. It’s somewhat customary, at least in many of the churches I’ve attended, for people to bow their heads and close their eyes when it’s time to pray. Sometimes people are even specifically instructed to do so.
Why is that? I can think of practical reasons, like blocking out distractions, but I can’t think of a single instance in Scripture where anyone prayed with their eyes closed. The repentant tax collector in Luke 18 wouldn’t lift his eyes to heaven, but even then there’s no mention of him closing his eyes.
There are examples in the Psalms and in the gospels of people praying with eyes lifted up to heaven, though. Commenting on John 11:41, John Calvin notes that:
…this exercise is profitable, because men are aroused by it to seek God; and not only so, but the ardor of prayer often affects the body in such a manner that, without thinking of it, the body follows the mind of its own accord. Certainly, we cannot doubt that, when Christ raised his eyes to heaven, he was carried towards it with extraordinary vehemence. Besides, as all his thoughts were with the Father, so he also wished to bring others to the Father along with him.
Calvin’s argument here is that some physical actions like raising our eyes to heaven may simply be a reflection of spiritual fervor–“the body follows the mind of its own accord.” Elsewhere, though, Calvin seems to argue that rather than reflecting fervor, physical actions jolt us out of spiritual laziness and inflame passion, both in ourselves and in others. So whether our physical actions are reflecting fervor or inflaming it, Calvin seems to be conscious of an essential connection between physical posture and spiritual posture.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that praying with your eyes closed is wrong. But perhaps we would be less likely to fall asleep (closing our eyes is the first step!), and more likely to be fully engaged if we prayed with our eyes lifted to heaven. What do you think?