Devotional, Face Down: Body Language and the Shaping of Our Spiritual Experience, by Donna Elkins

Robert WoodsMember Publications: Other, News: Other Leave a Comment

Face Down: Body Language and the Shaping of our Spiritual Experience

 Then Abram fell face down and God spoke with him. Genesis 17:3 (CSB)

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy became a sensation with her TED Talk about the benefits of “power posing.”[1] Her research, later published in the 2015, focuses on the impact our body language has on what we think and how we feel about ourselves.

The traditional view says your feelings and thoughts drive you to hold your body in certain ways or give off nonverbal communication clues to what you are feeling or thinking. In contrast, Cuddy argues that you can change how you feel in certain situations by changing your body posture first. So, for example, like a winning runner crossing the finish line, she recommends standing for two minutes with arms raised in a winning pose before going into a job interview or work situation where you need to be assertive. Placing your body into this pose will release certain hormones and improve your feelings of assertiveness and control.

Cuddy’s research is similar to an older theory called the Facial Feedback Hypothesis. According to this theory, facial expressions not only outwardly express your emotions but are also linked to your experience of emotions. So, if you smile then you are more likely to experience happier emotions; if you frown, then negative emotions.[2]

In Genesis 17, Abram is about to receive a lasting covenant from God where his name is changed, and he is promised that his children will be blessed for all generations. Abram hears this covenant from God lying face down.

Several times in Scripture we see that leaders in serious conversations laid face down: Moses (Numbers 16:4); Joshua (Joshua 5: 14); Ruth (Ruth 2:10); and David (1 Samuel 20:41), to name a few. Although this custom isn’t something we do a lot these days, perhaps the nonverbal research above suggests something important? Perhaps lying face down in a posture of submission and worship before God could work to show our position before Him while inspiring new feelings, thoughts, and perspectives in us?

Reflection: In what body positions do you typically pray? Have you found that you engage in different body language when you pray publicly versus privately? Why do you think that may be?

Today’s ChallengeTry engaging in a two-minute power pose, a conscious facial expression not based on feeling, or a new body position in prayer (maybe face down or on your knees) and consider whether your feelings or thoughts change in these encounters.

Donna M. Elkins, Spalding University



[2] Research on this hypothesis has been mixed and recent experimentation has shown that the impact on emotions only lasts for a few minutes while you are engaged in making the facial expression but does not last beyondSöderkvist, S., Ohlén, K., & Dimberg, U. (2018). How the experience of emotion is modulated by facial feedback. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 42(1), 129–151.

Leave a Reply