by Jane E. Vennard
We sometimes take for granted our breathing. I remember thinking how silly my dance teacher was to say in the middle of our expressive movements, “Don’t forget to breathe.” But as she continued to call us to awareness of our breath, I realized the many ways I would hold my breath, breathe only into the top of my lungs, or breathe rapidly when I became anxious. As I paid attention to my breathing and learned new ways to breathe, I discovered how my breath could support my movements, allowing more flexibility, strength, and endurance. And so it is with prayer. Our breathing supports our practice.
Breath prayers are a modern adaptation of the ancient prayer of the heart. We create them to express our deepest needs. They help us keep God in the foreground amidst our daily living and clarify our relationship with the holy. Most breath prayers are six to eight syllables and fit easily into one inhale and exhale. Some examples are “Help me rest; give me peace,” “Make clear my way, O Holy One,” “Out of darkness, into light,” or “Fill me, Spirit, with your love.”
Ron DelBene, who has written extensively on this prayer method, suggests the following steps in creating or discovering your personal breath prayer. [Adapted from Ron DelBene, Herb Montgomery, and Mary Montgomery, The Breath of Life: A Workbook (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 1996), 12-13. Used by permission of Upper Room Books.]
1. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and remember that God loves you and you are in God’s presence.
2. Imagine God calling you by name, asking “(Your name), what do you want?”
3. Answer God honestly with whatever word or phrase comes from deep within you.
4. Choose your favorite or most natural name for God.
5. Combine your name for God with your word or phrase to form a brief prayer that flows smoothly.
What I Want
Name for God
Let me know your peace, O God.
Jesus, let me feel your love.
Eternal Light, guide me in your way.
Repeat the prayer for a few minutes, allowing the words to settle into a regular rhythm. If more than one idea arises, you may need to ponder what the deepest desire of your heart is. A helpful question to ask is, What do I want that will make me feel most whole? In creating your own breath prayer, you might take several days of reflection to discover what is best for you. Be patient, and let the words emerge from your deepest longings. When you have discovered your prayer, begin to practice it at different times during the day. You might pray it before you get out of bed in the morning. Or try turning off the car radio and pray while you drive. You could breathe and pray when you become anxious, frustrated, or bored. The breath prayer reminds us that praying is as natural as breathing.
Excerpted from The Way of Prayer: Participant’s Book by Jane E. Vennard with Stephen D. Bryant. © 2006 by Upper Room Books. Used with permission.
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