Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! 

Psalm 150

Have you every noticed that when you are in the middle of a storm in life, whatever that storm might be, it can be difficult to pray? Just when we need it the most?! But here is an amazing fact: we breathe over 17,000 times a day, every day, no matter what is happening in our life. And I am more and more convinced that one of the best things that we can do when we are facing a stressful situation is simply to breathe, and to be aware of our breathing, and simply to be aware of God’s abiding presence as we breathe.

So, are you facing stress in your life right now? Does prayer seems difficult or impossible to you right now? If so, I invite you to stop praying. Yes, your read that correctly! Stop praying, and stop trying to pray. Instead, I encourage you to breathe; just breathe. Breathe, and be aware of your breathing. Take a moment right now to notice your breathing. Is it short and shallow? Slow and deep? Simply pay attention to it for a few moments.

One of the reasons why breathing is a gift to us when we face life’s inevitable challenges is because it is always there. We can always take a moment to simply pay attention to our breathing. And this act alone can calm us down when we are feeling very anxious.

But what does this have to do with praying? Well, as I see it, when we accept the gift of God’s presence in our life, we are praying. Our every breath, a gift from our Creator. And simply by breathing and accepting God’s presence with us, we are praying. Not with words, perhaps, but we are praying nonetheless. Because being with God, or praying, does not always have to include words. When we are with a loved one, we don’t have to talk to know that they are there. We can simply be with them. And so it is with God. When we are with God, breathing, being still in God’s presence, we are praying.

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46

But, you might ask, how I can more tangibly connect breathing to prayer? How about something called a breath prayer? This is a short prayer that you say over and over again, coinciding with your breath. A famous example is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” As you breathe in, you think the words, “Lord Jesus Christ.” And as you breathe out, you think the words, “Have mercy on me.” But any words that are meaningful to you can be used. As another example, how about the first words of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd” as you breathe in, and “I shall not want” as you breathe out.

A breath prayer can also be a single word, like “Jesus” or “Lord” or “Peace.” Something that coincides with your breath. This prayer can be done intentionally, and at fixed times each day (for example, 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening). And it can be done spontaneously, throughout the day.

Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic monk and Christian writer from the 20th Century, knew the value of linking prayer with our breathing. He wrote about it often. Here is a passage that I think of often, particularly when I am in the sanctuary of my church praying:

Let there always be quiet, dark churches in which people can take refuge.  Places where they can kneel in silence.  Houses of God, filled with His silent presence.  There, even when they do not know how to pray, at least they can be still and breathe easily.  Let there be a place somewhere in which you can breathe naturally, quietly, and not have to take your breath in continuous short gasps.  A place where your mind can be idle, and forget its concerns, descend into silence, and worship the Father in secret.

Perhaps a church is not the place where you can take refuge. But it can be very valuable to have a place where you can sit and be still and breathe easily. A safe place. A quiet place. A peaceful place. Creating a place like this almost naturally leads to prayer. For me, my closet at home served as that place for several years. I had a folding chair, an icon of Christ, and a little candle. I would go in there and close the door and light the candle and sit quietly and become aware of my breathing and allow prayer to rise up naturally. For you, as for many, it may be outdoors. That’s okay! But discover that place where you can go and breathe naturally, quietly. Where you can simply rest in the presence of God. And then, breathe. And as you breathe and pay attention to your breathing, let your prayer rise up naturally.

So, here is an exercise you can try: Find or create a place for you where you can breathe easily. It should be a place where you can be alone and not be interrupted. Go to that place and sit and become aware of your breathing. Introduce a breath prayer and spend 10 minutes breathing and praying. As you conclude, thank yourself for taking this time to care for your soul and thank your loving God for His presence with you during this time.

Just think: In God’s miraculous way we have been given 17,000 chances a day, every day, to simply breathe and be reminded of God’s abiding presence and love! What a wonderful gift! So let us breathe without ceasing, and with every breath let our prayers rise up to our loving Creator!

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

matthew 28

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