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-   -   Why do Christians fold their hands when they pray? (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=376091)

elmwood 06-17-2006 10:45 AM

Why do Christians fold their hands when they pray?
 
The title is the question, basically. When Christians pray, they often fold their hands together, or touch the palms of the hands like this. Why?

Lissa 06-17-2006 11:04 AM

They didn't always do that. I've seen early paintings in which the supplicants put up their hands, palm outwards. (Much like the guesture you would make if someone said you were being robbed.)

I have also seen images of people praying in which they stand with elbows bent at their sides, their hands outstretched with palms turned upwards, and images in which the supplicant crosses their arms over their chest to pray. (Like a pretzel, which is supposedly where the form came from.)

Mt WAG is that it came into vogue because of the number of tomb effigies which showed the person lying there, with hands pressed together in front of them as a way of demonstrating piety. (Like here, the tomb of Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York.) You see it so often on medieval tombs, that my guess is that hands-clasped image became the sterotypical image of prayer used in art.

spingears 06-17-2006 11:10 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by elmwood
The title is the question, basically. When Christians pray, they often fold their hands together, or touch the palms of the hands like this. Why?

AFAIK it is in imitation of what seeing others do, observation of photos, habit, stops tendency to fidgit.
No biblical prcedent that I am aware of.

Other Answers

CC 06-17-2006 11:57 AM

So, clearly, no one (yet) has an answer to the OP. But the site you cited has some fascinating information, and the writer obviously has a direct line to the lord! Note:

"It is important to remember that God doesn’t care how we pray -- just that we pray"

I wonder if the guy could find out who's going to win the World Cup.

diggleblop 06-17-2006 12:09 PM

I don't know the exact origins of the answer, but I would think holding your hands open and facing up is a sign that one is humbling themselves and has nothing to hide. In fact, in police interrogation class, dectives learn when a subject opens their hands after making a statement that they are more than likely telling the truth with their body language.

But as far as holding their hands together, I wouldn't know, but I know lots of people in the old days used to thank other people by holding their hands together and bowing to them slightly. So maybe it's something to do with humbling yourself

Don't Panic 06-17-2006 12:11 PM

One theory on the subject that I've heard, is that the business of the folded hands was taken from feudalism. The same gesture was used in early medieval Europe to show submission to a feudal lord, as part of the ceremony to become a vassal. The aspiring vassal would kneel before his lord and place his folded hands into the hands of the lord. The lord would then clasp his own hands over the hands of the vassal, as a sign that he accepted the latter into his service. It certainly seems to make sense that the relationship between a praying Christian and God could be seen as analogous to this feudal relationship.

I'll see if I can dig up some cites on this ... hang on...

Don't Panic 06-17-2006 12:33 PM

Well, my Google-fu obviously isn't working at its best today, but I found explicit mention of the link between the feudal gesture and prayer here (scroll to around the end of page 2).

However, I find plenty of mentions of the feudal gesture by itself, like here- including a nice picture, apparently from the Dresden Manuscript of the Sachsenspiegel, whatever that is. ;) It's figure 2, scroll down to near the end of the page. Sure looks a lot like a dude praying to me.

Thudlow Boink 06-17-2006 01:48 PM

Having their hands folded keeps kids from prematurely digging in or playing with tableware during pre-meal prayers.

At least that's the way it was in my house growing up. :)

panache45 06-17-2006 02:52 PM

It's to keep your hands from getting into trouble if they were somewhere else. :D

hawksgirl 06-17-2006 03:20 PM

I was always told that it was to keep people from getting distracted, same reason that eyes are closed. That way you can focus on God or what is being said.

ltfire 06-17-2006 06:16 PM

So many years ago, in Catholic grade school, the nuns would INSIST that the hands were kept together, palm to palm, with the fingers pointing up to the Lord.
Ltfire always felt girlish to do this, so as he stood at Mass with palms together and fingers interlocked pointing downward (TOWARDS THE DEVIL) It was inevitable that he would be smacked in the back of the head by a roaming nun. :eek: :D

tygerbryght 06-17-2006 06:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Peak Banana
However, I find plenty of mentions of the feudal gesture by itself, like here- including a nice picture, apparently from the Dresden Manuscript of the Sachsenspiegel, whatever that is. ;) It's figure 2, scroll down to near the end of the page. Sure looks a lot like a dude praying to me.

Absolutely marvelous reference! Thank you.

I like hawksgirl's explanation. That's why I sometimes do it.

dangermom 06-17-2006 06:24 PM

Our church's usual habit is to fold the arms. Obviously it isn't necessary, but it's common, esp. in group settings. I teach the 3-yo class, and when we teach the lesson about praying, we have them bow their heads, fold their arms, and keep their feet still. All of this is to show reverence and minimize distraction. With the 3yos at least, if they didn't do this, they'd be flailing around like fish out of water and hitting each other.

elmwood 06-17-2006 07:06 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Peak Banana
One theory on the subject that I've heard, is that the business of the folded hands was taken from feudalism.

That really sounds like the kind of answer Cecil himself would give. Thanks!


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