This morning, I began my usual Morning prayer from the Litugy of the Hours, making the sign of the cross while saying the opening verse: "O God Come to my assistance/Lord, make haste to help me.”
Later on into the prayer, I again made the sign of the cross while praying “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he has come to his people and set them free...” in the canticle of Zechariah. I did this once more at the conclusion, while saying, “May the Lord bless us, protect us from every evil, and bring us to everlasting life.”
It struck me—what an interesting thing it is to make the sign of the cross while saying other words than the usual invocation of the Trinity. I was expressing two different prayer-thoughts at once, by using two different language formats: spoken English and sacred sign language. Put another way, my mind prayed one thing (“God come to my assistance”) while my body prayed another (invoking the blessed Trinity.)
Come to think of it, there are many ways we pray with our bodies, whether or not our minds and lips are praying at the same time. The simple act of kneeling down is itself a prayer—an act of humility before God. Likewise genuflecting, kissing a crucifix or other holy object, taking holy water, folding or raising one's hands in prayer. All these gestures, and many others, are themselves acts of prayer, even before a single word crosses our lips or even our minds.
A protestant teacher of mine once expressed befuddlement with her experience attending mass: “all the up-rising, down-sitting, kneel here, bow there—I just couldn't keep up with it. It was like an exercise class.” Wish I could go back in time to high school, and explain to her, “Yes, that's the whole idea. We pray with our bodies, minds, and souls."
It's just another aspect of the Church being so very Sacramental. Things--including our arms, hands, legs--are vehicles through which God receives our praise and sends His grace.