Updated: October 13, 2020
Praying hands (or the clasped hands) is a common prayer gesture or posture among Christians. The clasped hands are usually held before the heart as a symbol of submission, sincerity, repentance and obedience. Some raise their prayer hands as if pleading to God to grant their prayers.
This gesture, however, is not only common to Christians but to Jews as well. In the book entitled “Book of Jewish Knowledge” by Nathan Ausubel, he said: “It has also been commonly assumed that folding the hands in prayer is exclusively a Christian custom. This is not the historical fact at all. As early as the post-Exilic period, when Jews prayed, they folded their hands, and they observed this custom for several centuries even after it had been adopted by Christians.”
Jesus, being a Jew, also prayed with clasped hands. You must have seen pictures or images of Him in the garden of Gethsemani in this prayer gesture. In other art works, you can also see the Virgin Mary and angels with their hands clasped as well.
In the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, this prayer gesture is a sign of veneration and respect as well as a greeting. Termed the “anjali mudra”, this is done by the drawing together of one’s palms at the heart. In Sanskrit, anjali means an offering and mudra means seal. In India particularly, this gesture goes hand in hand with the word “Namaste” which is something like a sacred Hello and translated as “I bow to the divinity within you from the divinity within me.”
In prayer, our body certainly has a role to play along with our heart, mind and soul. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his book “Spirit of the Liturgy” said: “The body has a place within the divine worship of the Word made flesh, and it is expressed liturgically in a certain discipline of the body…”
The Pope mentioned the custom during feudal times of placing one’s joined hands into the hands of his ruling lord as a sign of his fidelity and loyalty. So when we fold our hands in prayer, we are symbolically pledging to God our fidelity and loyalty and placing our hands in His.
What happens when we pray or meditate with clasped or folded hands? In the practice of yoga, it is said that bringing our hands together literally brings the left and right hemispheres of the brain together. Such a posture calms the mind.
Personally, I am able to focus more on God when I pray with my hands folded. Try swinging your hands instead and see if you can concentrate. It is just like when I kneel to pray. I acknowledge God’s presence with respect. I know a lot of people feel the same way. Praying hands and praying hearts are certainly pleasing to God.