Breathing prayer

Last Sunday I introduced a Bible study called Connections that I think can help you get through the anxious days we live in. I hope you’ve at least taken that out for a test drive. Today I’m going to show you a couple of ways of praying that I also think you will find helpful in this stressful time.

The beauty of these ways of praying is that you can do them almost anytime and anywhere, even in the most demanding circumstances. These are prayers that you make in coordination with your breathing.

In these days of pandemic, when we wear masks in public to protect ourselves and others from our breath, it may seem odd to talk about breathing as a form of prayer. But it can be a powerful way of communicating with God.

We’re going to practice several breathing prayers this morning, so let’s get warmed up. First, make yourself comfortable. Relax. Roll your neck to get some kinks out. Let your arms go limp in your lap or at your side. Take a deep breath in. Let it out slowly. Inhale again, a good deep breath. Now let it out. Let it all out.

Breathing such as this is a kind of prayer. That’s the assertion of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. He calls it “spiritual respiration.” He describes it as “the life of God in the soul of a believer.”

It’s “the continual inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit,” he says – “God breathing into the soul, and the soul breathing back what it receives from God.”

It’s about God continually breathing into us the breath of life, and us breathing back to God the fruits of life renewed through Christ.

Let’s practice it again. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in God’s grace. Breathe out praise and prayer. Breathe in God’s grace. Breathe out love and thanksgiving. Breathe in grace to you. Breathe out grace to others

Breathing in and breathing out, we move from the experience of God’s grace to the sharing of God’s grace, from the receiving of grace to the giving away of grace we have received.

Spiritual respiration, then, is kind of an enacted parable of our life in grace. It is sometimes called the “prayer of the heart,” because words are not necessary. But you can add words, in an ancient practice called Breath Prayer. As the name implies, it’s a short prayer that’s intended to be said in one breath – one part while inhaling and one part while exhaling.

Any short prayer will work, but a popular form is called the Jesus Prayer. It’s based on the prayer of Bartimaeus, the blind man whom Jesus heals in Jericho on his last trip to Jerusalem.

The Jesus Prayer goes like this: (inhale) “Jesus, Son of God, (exhale) have mercy on me.”

Practice that with me. (inhale) “Jesus, Son of God, (exhale) have mercy on me.” And again…

There’s a longer form, if you have the breath for it: (inhale) “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, (exhale) have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Again: (inhale) “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, (exhale) have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The Jesus Prayer is just one of many Breath Prayers you can make.

Here are some other popular ones, some longer than others.

Lord, have mercy.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Not my will, but yours.

When I trust in you, I am not afraid.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

Jesus loves me, this I know.

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Breath prayers have a calming effect because you have to regulate your breathing to say them. But sometimes you don’t have the leisure to do that. In times of crisis, you may have to just blurt something out to keep you properly centered.

That’s when another kind of prayer comes in. It’s saying a word or phrase over and over again as fast or as slow as you need to. Call this a prayer word, or mantra. It’s something that helps you focus on a positive thought.

Remember the story of The Little Engine That Could? “I think I can, I think I can.”

When you’re stressed, feeling overwhelmed, facing uncertain days ahead, repeating a mantra or prayer word can help you keep on track with positive thinking.

At this point, I need to confess that almost everything I know about mantras I learned from Ginger Rothhass. Ginger is a graduate of Saint Paul School of Theology. Like my wife Linda, she once served as a pastoral care intern at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood. She now lives in Kansas City, in Brookside, and acts as a soul coach.

You can find her at two websites: compassionfix.com and manyopengates.com. You can sign up for a weekly email message from her. I look forward to receiving one every Tuesday morning.

Back to mantras and prayer words.

Here’s what Ginger says: “Repeating a phrase or word to yourself has been shown to have a physiological effect on our bodies. It can create a feeling of calm, bring reassurance, help us to feel safe, lower stress, increase optimism, and positively impact outcomes. By repeating a phrase to yourself, you are creating a neural pathway that not only creates a habit of positive thinking but becomes your default mindset.”

Here are some examples of mantras that she lists:

I can do this.

I choose to be happy.

I am loved.

Done beats perfect.

It’s good enough.

I’ve come so far.

Do the right thing.

Go slow.

Don’t force it.

Let it go.

Family first.

It will get better.

All is well.

I am not alone.

This too shall pass.

Breathe.

You can also create your own mantra. What advice do you want to give yourself? When do you need encouragement the most? Write some mantras and test them out. If they are true and positive and encouraging, keep using them.

Practice using them every day. The more often you repeat them, the more likely you are to remember the thought when you need it most. It’s similar to memorizing Bible verses. They’re there when you need them.

Using mantras of your own creation, you can become your own life coach, and you can coach yourself through bad times.

Spiritual respiration, Breath Prayer, mantra. These are ways you can stay in touch with God anytime of day, anytime of need, anywhere you are physically, mentally, or spiritually.

Remember that God is as close as your breath. God was there for your first breath and will be there for your last breath and is there for every breath in between. You can pray without ceasing and rejoice always with every breath you take. May you breathe, and pray, well.

This message was delivered September 27, 2020, at Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kansas, from      Mark 10:64-69 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17.

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