One of the spiritual practices I journal on is the practice of breath prayer. Breath prayer is a type of Christian prayer practice in which one uses the words of Scripture as a way of wakening a mindfulness to God, to yourself, to your world, and your life. Through meditation on your breath, and on the words of Scripture you push away the distractions and come to carve out a sabbath space, a place of rest in your busyness of life where you can more fully experience yourself and also God as present in, with, under, and through you.
Here are some marvelous websites offering an introduction to the practice of breath prayer:
My own practice, since I think our spiritual life is deeper when grounded in community, is to select a verse from one of the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, a set of weekly readings of Scriptures used in churches of all varieties of denominations to guide the preaching and worship planning for each week. This grounds my practice of breath prayer in a spiritual life wider than my own concerns: first to the wider spiritual life of the church where I worship, which uses the lectionary, and most importantly to the spiritual pilgrimage the Christian community throughout the world is going through each week.
Obviously the verse I share for breath prayer this week on my blog is from many weeks ago, so not in step with the specific week you read it today. I’d invite you to not just read the journal thoughts I’ve written but also to use this verse for your own week of prayer, joining me and joining the wider Christian community into a journey of deeper spirituality.
To help us on this journey, before I share my own journal of thoughts flowing from breath prayer I’d like to share the thoughts of Father Richard Rohr, whose spiritual reflections have deepened my own walk of faith.
From The Naked Now:
“The traditional and most universal word to describe a different access to truth was simply ‘to pray about something.’ But that lovely word ‘prayer’” has been so deadened by pious use and misuse that we now have to describe this different mental attitude with new words. I am going to introduce a different word here, so you can perceive prayer in a fresh way, and perhaps appreciate what we mean by contemplation. The word is ‘resonance.’ Prayer is actually setting out a tuning fork. All you can really do in the spiritual life is get tuned to receive the always present message. Once you are tuned, you will receive, and it has nothing to do with worthiness or the group you belong to, but only inner resonance and a capacity for mutuality. (Matthew 7:7-11) The Sender is absolutely and always present and broadcasting; the only change is with the receiver station.
“Prayer is indeed the way to make contact with God/Ultimate Reality, but it is not an attempt to change God’s mind about us or about events. Such attempts are what the secularists make fun of – and rightly so. It is primarily about changing our mind so that things like infinity, mystery, and forgiveness can resound within us. The small mind cannot see Great Things because the two are on two different frequencies or channels, as it were. The Big Mind can know big things, but we must change channels. Like will know like.
“Without prayer, the best you can do is know by comparison, calculation, and from the limited viewpoint of ‘you.’ Prayer, as very traditionally understood, knows reality in a totally different way. Instead of presenting a guarded self to the moment, true prayer stops defending or promoting its ideas and feelings, lets go of any antagonistic attitudes or fears, and waits for, expects, and receives guidance from Another. It offers itself ‘nakedly’ to the now, so that your inner and aroused lover can meet the Lover. Now you surely see why you have to allow some major surgery in your own heart, mind, and eyes to even pray at all. (see Matthew 5:23-26) Prayer is about changing you, not about changing God.
“Most simply put, as we’ve seen, prayer is something that happens to you, (Romans 8:26-27), much more than anything you privately do. It is an allowing of the Big Self more than an assertion of the small self. Eventually you will find yourself preferring to say, ‘Prayer happened, and I was there’ more than ‘I prayed today.’ All you know is that you are being led, being guided, being loved, being used, being prayed through – and you are no longer in the driver’s seat. God stops being an object of attention like any other object in the world, and becomes at some level your own ‘I am.’ You start knowing through, with, and in Somebody Else. Your little ‘I Am’ becomes ‘We Are.’ Please trust me on this. It might be the most important thing I am saying …”
May these words inspire you into deeper openness to God as you join me in experiencing the living Word who is Christ present in the depths in, with, under, and through all of our lives.
And I ain’t just whistling Dixie.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
I picked Psalm 138:8 from the lectionary for my breath prayer mindfulness meditation this week — “The LORD will fulfill God’s purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands”.
Feelings of distress and concern about things out of control, people in my life in pain that I cannot help, and uncertainty about the future rise to the surface with these words. I am drawn to the words “will fulfill God’s purpose” and “do not forsake the work of your hands”. I see people in my life whom I know are the work of God’s hands that I love immensely, yet whose bodies betray them. Their health hangs in the balance, like Jonathan Edward’s proverbial spider on a thread. Their health struggles stem from how their body was formed. I hurt to see them hurt, and I cannot but wonder at times: has God in fact begun forsaking the work of God’s hands? Will God let them fulfill their purpose? On better days it is clear: if God is love, as I have experienced God to be, than surely God’s love for them is not less than my own. It must be deeper and wider. Yet it is hard to trust isn’t it? Hard to accept that others whom you love have their fates hanging in another’s hands? That is the life of faith, the only way forward: to trust, to cling to the promise and embrace the all-surrounding presence of love even in the moments of fear and darkness.
Also these lines connect with my own feelings of inadequacy and fear of being a failure. I’ve tried my best to try to serve God, to answer what I believe was God’s call on my life, yet often it has not worked out in the way I’d hoped or dreamed. When this happens, it is so easy to wonder if you are forsaken. And even the best of us, knowing in our heads it is not true and God will bring all things to the good if we continue to trust, struggle. Despite knowing these things, we still feel that insecurity and pain, having seen how fickle human love and friendship can be. Thank God that God’s love is without limit, a sea with no bottom, a grace without end.
As I enter into meditation, I feel the anxiety, fear, and uncertainty of many of the new opportunities in front of me. My fear of failure floats to the surface, as well as my deep helplessness about health crises a number in my family are facing. The line “steadfast love” grabs me, like a friend holding me close when I might otherwise fall. I notice my own fear. I fear that someone who promises to be there for me might let me down, a fear borne of hard experience. I hear the promise God has given of a love that is not shaken. I hear this is a commitment to me borne of love which will not be forgotten and dropped. I have to admit to have not known much love like this in my life, although there are some people who have truly lived out this faithful love. This love remains, ever faithful and true, as regular as sunshine in the morning or golden and crimson leaves falling in a southern autumn. I thank God for the reminder of this love, and for the glimpses of it I have seen in relationships that are dear to me.
Beginning my meditation, I felt the many worries about things I have to get done at this transition in my life rise to the surface, making felt the many things I fear I cannot accomplish, and the oh so much that is simply out of my hands yet affects me and those I hold dear. I hear the words “the LORD will” and it resonates with my spirit. I am reminded that as much as I fear my own failure or my own inability to handle x, y, or z, I know that ultimately it is all in the Creator’s hands and God is able to navigate through these uncertain waters. Though I feel that I do not know where resources will come from for certain needs, I know that God is the one who brings water from the rocks and manna from the desert floor. I know that though, like Israel, I might need to cry out my feelings of anxiety, fear, hope, and despair, God is steadfast and will not forsake me. I pray for God’s hands to hold me up when my heart is trembling, feet unsteady. I pray for the ability to see this promise even when I do not fully see its outcome. I pray the same for you, too.
What stands out to me is the phrase “your love … endures forever”. I’m watching alot of things I felt were permanent in my life pass, including losing some folks who have been fixtures of my life. I think there is a part of me in times like this one which feels the question “what is lasting?” almost palpably. People pass, and drift apart — from each other, from me, me from them. So many things change and fade. In times of transition my heart looks for what is steady to lean on. My meditation allowed my feelings of anxiety, loss, grief, to come to the surface. Yet it also reminded me that God is ever, always, reaching out arms of love to us. There is not a time that God is not near us, closer than the air that we breathe and the blood in our veins, God’s touch more intimate than the sun’s warmth on our face or the breeze in our hair. We are never alone, though times we feel it, alone in God’s presence and alone in a crowded room of family and friends, as much as alone on our porches, coffee in hand. This love is steady, constant as summer rain or spring breeze.
As I begin my time of meditation, feelings rise to the surface like oil upon water. My soul is soaked by feelings of worthlessness. When I struggle with things I cannot control and feel out of my depth these show up, rising to the surface. As I meditate, I feel these feelings rising through the silence, feelings rooted in my not yet finding work, rooted in my feelings of helplessness dealing with family health issues, rooted in my difficulty knowing how to help some people close to me with relationship problems. Yet as I meditate on these words, I am reminded by them that I — and all of these situations — are in the Maker’s hands. I am reminded God’s word to me is always, ever, love and faithfulness. I am reminded the future and the present are not all up to me. I am reminded that God’s love is deeper than my own not just for myself but for those I hold dear.
I hear a voice whisper, “let go”. Letting go and trusting is never easy for me, but deep in my soul I whisper “I’ll try”. I hope as you struggle with whatever lies before you, you are able to rest in the knowledge you are held by the arms of love, the embrace of Father, Son, and mothering Holy Spirit for you. Remember you are embraced and not alone.
My uncertainties and fears about the future spun like a storm cloud around me as I began to meditate upon these words. I realized as I did so that sometimes the thought of God having a purpose or a plan for me is tarnished by my experience of others with their plans for me, their ulterior motives, which ended up souring good relationships, leaving me feeling manipulated. At times when I am fearful or uncertain, thinking in terms of God’s plans for me can get lumped together with these relationships which went sour. Yet as I continued to meditate, these words rolled over me, each one being like the next part of a warm winter coat sliding over my arm, elbow, shoulder, until I felt covered enough for any blistering breeze. I began to sense a nearness of love, and notice the words “steadfast love … endures forever.” I hear in that phrase the promise of not being forsaken. I was reminded God’s plans have no ulterior motives. They all are aimed at me being loved, as I am. I was reminded that this is a promise not to be manipulated by another, but that I will never be forsaken. God’s plans for me are not contingent on me fitting another’s box, but wholly and completely a part of me being truly who I am. After all who I am is the work of God’s hands that God will not forsake. That is a word of encouragement and of peace in difficult times.
So often we experience love as fickle, knowing first hand the inconstancy of others and life. Sometimes this inconstancy is so palpable. I feel it right now, like an ache in my bones, as I see people I care for struggle and am helpless in the face of their struggles to change them. While I face this helplessness, my old fears not only rear their heads but are strengthened by the heartache of actual loss, grief from friends who passed far too young, far too unexpectedly. During my meditations on this passage today, the words “will”, “steadfast”, “endure”, and “forever” stand out to me. They are like the whisper of the Almighty in my ear, the sheltering wings of the mothering Holy Spirit about me, the promise “I will be with you always” of Christ upon ascension hill. It is easy as we watch Christ alight on wings to glory to believe those words, and easy as the Almighty parts the sea to believe in his deliverance, and so easy when the mother Spirit falls like fire from heavens in divided tongues over our head to trust Her embrace. Yet those promises only are meaningful when we wonder at Christ’s tarrying, when we wander through a desert time unsure of fresh water springs, when our experience of Spirit is groans and sighs beyond solace and beyond words. My meditation reminds me that God’s love will never falter, never turn. God remains ever, always near at hand, even though not always visible or palpable. I am reminded that allowing fear of what may come, and regret of what has passed, to brighten my horizon with orangey hue of twilight haze will keep me from seeing the sparkling beauty of what is in this moment. There is joy, love, beauty, and friendship alive, here, in this moment and in this place. There are friends new and old alive and at hand, and those who’ve passed are also alive and present in the Spirit with Christ, their love not ending. There is love, romance, friendship, family, all near at hand too. I hear the voice of the Spirit calling me in my meditations to embrace the joy of the moment, even when that joy comes in sorrow or struggle, and to trust in the embracing love of God for me and all whom I love.