So this is a question I’ve been thinking about, what’s the origins of praying with one’s eyes closed, and how would it affect our phenomenology of God.
As far as I can see, the Bible does not describe or prescribe praying with one’s eyes closed. Posture of prayer we do have is Daniel 6:10 praying on one’s knees and facing Jerusalem. Presumably if Daniel was facing Jerusalem he was praying with his eyes open, but that’s neither here nor there.
While Jesus would say that people shall neither worship in Jerusalem nor on the mountains but in spirit and in truth, I still wonder about praying with eyes closed or opened. My reflections are inspired by my recent postings on the relationship between the problem of other minds and God, and that there is a philosophical gap between empirically seeing people’s physical bodies and effects and “knowing” what’s on their minds.
While there are various philosophical theories as to how we “discern” the mind “behind” the bodies, I wondered how would closing one’s eyes during prayer would affect “where” we think God is, as opposed to praying with one’s eyes opened. I mean, when we speak or address someone, we don’t close our eyes to try to access their thoughts telepathically. We generally look them in the eye or the face because, we think, that their minds are “behind” their bodies so to speak. Of course one could argue that we look at them to discern their body language or facial cues, but we would still not close our eyes even if we are addressing someone with a perfect poker face or a good actor.
If we close our eyes during prayer, there is the implied phenomenology that God is only “within”, that God’s presence is to be identified with some special psychological posture which we can access only from “within” us. It also suggests that God’s presence is inherently subjective and can only be found within our own feelings or thoughts. We close our eyes to “shut off the world” where God is not, to find God “within”.
Imagine however praying with one’s eyes open. I think the phenomenology here would be parallel to how we address people, we will try to discern the God “behind” the physical universe, upholding and sustaining it. Imagine if we made it a habit to address God with our eyes open discerning his presence behind all things in his world. not merely “within”, I think this is a difference which would make a difference to our experience of God.
I think however this is a practice which needs to be fostered and inculcated, like looking people in the eye when you speak to them. It doesn’t come automatically or naturally. Maybe we should practice “looking God in the face of creation” by praying with our eyes open. After all, does not Roman 1:20 say that God’s eternal power and divine nature can be clearly *seen* in the creation of the world? How can we “see” God if we close our eyes to creation when we pray?