Catholic doctor instills youthful love of prayer through motion

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Quiet time plus stillness does not always equal prayer. A conversation with God can happen with a little bit of wiggle, too.

In fact, a Phoenix doctor’s new resource ensures movement complements standard prayers and remains simple enough that kindergarteners and older students embrace them. Prayer Motion is a series of prayer movements that align body, mind and soul with common prayer.

“It’s based in American Sign Language which is really neat,” its creator, Dr. Anne Borik, said. Its roots come from Benedictine monastic practices.

Prayer Motion

A tool for teachers and individuals to encourage short prayers set to meaningful movements that in turn decrease stress and improve focus.

PrayerMotion.com

Borik worked with musician Chris Muglia to set the entire three-year liturgical cycle of Psalms to music and motion. The collection also includes other well-known devotions such as the Guardian Angel Prayer, the Hail Mary, prayers to specific saints and St. Ignatius of Loyola’s “Suscipe.”

Kindergarteners at St. Francis Xavier were the first to learn all nine lines of the latter prayer about a year ago. They in turn taught it to the entire 645-member student body who offered the prayer as a parting gift when a beloved pastor stepped down.

Deborah Westerfield, campus minister, said St. Francis Xavier leadership embraced the Prayer Motion concept because it fed right into the school mission statement that “cultivates excellence in mind, body and spirit sending forth Kids for Others.”

Westerfield noted that the boys, in particular, connect with Prayer Motion. One boy toward the back of a seventh-grade classroom even asked to do it one more time after demonstrating Prayer Motion for The Catholic Sun.

“They don’t feel embarrassed. They really get that they’re praying,” Westerfield said.

The demonstration brought the seventh-grade teacher to tears and reminded her to try to incorporate it more. Schools who register with Prayer Motion — currently 13 nationwide including six in the Diocese of Phoenix — can choose how and when to use the web-based program. Several local schools piloted the program last year.

A school or parish — St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church in east Phoenix uses it too — pays $149 per facility per year, which allows access for up to 500 users for unlimited web-based or downloadable content. Individual memberships are $49 per year.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel students in Tempe exclusively use the “Psalms in Motion” for weekly school liturgies.

St. John Bosco students use Prayer Motion during their Friday Masses. Younger grades also use them in the classroom. Second-graders in Lynda Hooker’s class embrace the physical prayer opportunity.

“My students ask, ‘When are we going to do Prayer Motion?’ and ‘Can we do [insert favorite prayer here]?’ They love it and get caught on to the words and motions very quickly,” Hooker said.

Her second-graders use Prayer Motion before religion class and prior to daily dismissal. The teacher finds the music and accompanying vocal peaceful, “truly calming, engaging and gave my students the positive interaction with the presence of God.”

Borik had an advisory group of priests, youth ministers, three religious sisters and a Maronite bishop on hand while developing Prayer Motion. She even shared the idea face-to-face with Pope Francis while in St. Peter’s Square last fall. Borik thought it might be a way to bring prayer back into public schools if Prayer Motion were a school club.

There are now more than 200 videos/songs in the Prayer Motion database for users to stream online. If there is demand, Borik is willing to offer the Psalms online for free to help Catholics better prepare for the upcoming Sunday liturgy.

The Prayer Motion concept was originally created to reduce stress and improve focus of medical patients.

“This whole thing came about to help my grandmother recover from a stroke,” Borik said.

Her grandmother was actually illiterate, but married to a musician, so the music and movement aided the physical and spiritual healing. As a doctor of internal medicine, Borik began bringing the concept of music and movement to the bedside of her patients.

“I found there was less stress, less anxiety,” Borik said. She brought the concept to parish nurses almost a decade ago and ultimately certified 88 nurses in using it as far away as Canada and New Zealand.

“Their feedback lit a fire,” Borik said.

She realized students could use music and movement too, particularly regarding prayer. The gestures would help them get to a deeper meaning of words and bring more calmness for sitting at a desk through the next academic lesson.