Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the question, “Why do we cross our arms when we pray?”
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Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tend to have go-to posturing when we pray. Even among a group of adults, when it’s time to pray, many will bow their heads, close their eyes, and cross their arms across their chest.
Where did this posturing come from?
Certainly members of The Church of Jesus Christ did not originate the practice. Some suggest the pretzel was invented as a reminder of prayer—with crossed arms.
“According to pretzel maker Snyders of Hanover, a young monk in the early 600s in Italy was preparing a special Lenten bread of water, flour, and salt. To remind his brother monks that Lent was a time of prayer, he rolled the bread dough in strips and then shaped each strip in the form of crossed arms, mimicking the then-popular prayer position of folding one’s arms over each other on the chest.”
Folded or crossed arms have been a normal and acceptable behavior during prayer for at least that long, but its consistency in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be due to our robust primary children’s program. The same materials, lesson plans, and pictures are used all over the world.
This primary manual stated explicitly that folding arms is one part of preparing for prayer:
“How do we get ready for prayer? (We fold our arms, close our eyes, and bow our heads.) Why do we fold our arms, close our eyes, and bow our heads to get ready for prayer? Point out that when we do these things, it is easier for us to feel Heavenly Father near us as we pray.”
Similarly, the Friend magazine had a paper cutout of a doll where you could add arms with brads and then fold the doll’s arms in preparation for prayer.
“Get the paper doll ready for prayer by folding her arms and bowing her head.”
There are dozens of such examples. The nursery manual has both drawings and photographs of children with their arms folded in prayer.
Calls for reverence in primary often include folding arms. It seems likely that the standard of folding arms for prayer originated in primary.
Likely, we learned to fold arms for reverence and for prayers in primary and the habit stuck.
In a 1996 Ensign magazine, the practice was championed for adults as well.
“Formal prayers are those in which we follow expected forms appropriate to the prayers, such as kneeling, bowing the head, closing the eyes, folding the arms—and these prayers often present our thoughts in an organized, systematic manner.”
Prayers can be offered in any position, in any posture, in any place. We are commanded to “pray always” (D&C 19:38). We are not required to pray with arms folded, it’s just customary.
I know that when my distractions are minimized, I can focus more on my Heavenly Father and let my Spirit seek Him more earnestly. Whether my hands are clasped, folded, resting on my bed as I kneel beside it, or holding one of my children in my lap during a family prayer is of less consequence than where my intentions and heart are while I pray.
Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.