I don’t know why it never occurred to me before (because it’s rather obvious in retrospect), but this morning I realized that closing our eyes when we pray has a purpose beyond just showing respect for God and being the way we’ve always done it, a purpose I’d forgotten till today: focus.
Closing our eyes shuts out visual signals, getting rid of most external distractions. With the visuals out of the way, our ability to listen — physically, but hopefully spiritually as well — seems to get amplified. And then we can work on clearing our minds of internal distractions as well.
Without my noticing, I’ve recently been subconsciously discounting the physical aspects of prayer — closing your eyes, kneeling, folding your arms or clasping your hands — as being less necessary, but I see now that I’ve been wrong. These physicalities of prayer are in fact essential to good praying — to communing with God in a meaningful, sustaining way and not just mentally dictating a quick memo to him. (And yes, in some situations the physical aspects aren’t possible — closing your eyes and kneeling while driving a car would fall under the “Not Very Wise” category of things to do. I suppose you would get to meet God face to face fairly quickly, though…)
Also, creating this meditative environment for prayer, along with staying on your knees afterward to listen, is a great antidote for Internet ADD.