#Simplespirituality: Creating your own Breath Prayer

“If we are bored by our own prayers, it is unlikely that God will be very interested in them,” Simon Tugwell (10, “Prayer in Practice”)   

You don’t know me and I do not know you, but I suspect, when it comes to the life of prayer, there is part of you, at some time in your life, got bored with prayer.  I don’t know if this is right now for you or not.  But it is my hope and prayer, as you read through my notes (raw and unedited) if nothing else, you leave here with a prayer you are not bored to pray.

I think our problems with prayer starts with a desire to want to keep the supernatural; the spiritual; under our control.  This isn’t odd though because we generally like to keep everything under our control.  In his class on the Old Testament, Dr. John Oswalt taught us a great deal regarding the Ancient Near Eastern cult religions.  All of these cults are based off the idea of man “discovering” gods and making sense of their world by rituals intended to control these gods.

But in the Judeo-Christian tradition we have recorded that it is God who initiated, God who reached out, and God who first loved.  We understand Scripture to be a result primarily of revelation and not evolution.  The Wesleyan-Methodist concept of “prevenient grace” the grace that “goes before” makes this a vital foundation to prayer:  God speaks first.  What we do is a response to God’s action.  And the conversation that begins between us and God?  That is prayer.

In his book “Shattered Dreams,” Dr. Larry Crabb makes the observation: “It is in the pain that we discover our desire for God.”  Now, pain can take on MANY forms.  The pain that drives us toward God maybe related to work, to family, to faith, to health, and the list goes on.  For me, you can combine all of these and a few more but none so transformative as being my wife’s caregiver and living through her death from colon cancer after a 20 month battle with the disease.

Pain and prayer have gone hand in hand for sometime.  And in observing the life of Jesus and the lives of the saints, both those who lived by the Law of the Old Covenant and those who followed Jesus after the New Covenant, we find their spiritual lives governed by a more simple spirituality.  Jesus sums up the Law:  
Matthew 22:35-40 ESV  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  (36)  "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"  (37)  And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38)  This is the great and first commandment. (39)  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40)  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

While we Methodists point to a number of practices which fall under the title of “Means of Grace,” in his sermon by the same title, John Wesley points out three practices: Prayer, Scripture, and Communion as the primary practices for us to grow in faith.

We are not given the gift of an abundance of time today so we are limited to one of these, and by request, it is on prayer.  But let me put out one idea which does apply to them all that being:“Practices of Faith, practiced when we choose, are practices available when life does not go as we choose.”  My practice of the Jesus Prayer and breath prayers, is one example.

As part of my first 5 Day Academy of Spiritual Formation in 2011, we were encouraged to read, “The Way of A Pilgrim.”  It is a spiritual classic from the Eastern tradition of the Church, by Eastern, I mean the Orthodox Tradition.  It tells the story of a pilgrim who learns to pray the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  I began praying it and found it a wonderful gift and way to pray.  As honest confession, I had long struggled with praying until reading this book and learning to pray.

A couple of years later, I learned of about breath prayers.  A way to pray based off the idea of the Psalms and the Jesus Prayer.  Rev. Ron DelBene, and Episcopal clergy, wrote a series of books on it called “The Breath of Life” Series.  From this point, I have continued to explore breath prayer as a more active and dynamic practice.

When we read and study the narrative of Jesus’ life and teachings, we often neglect, I think, to point out the ongoing practice which has been so much a part of our Methodist-Wesleyan tradition: Jesus was an itinerate teacher.  He was always going from town to town, synagogue to synagogue and venturing across the waters ways of Israel.  Today, we are more stagnate and passive, not only in our lives but also in our faith practices.

My daughter, Jay, and I were planning to start section hiking the summer of 2014.  We had planned to do 50 miles of the Georgia section that first time out.  In preparation, I debated about what to carry - namely to take a Bible and/or devotional.  But it was “The Way of a Pilgrim” that won out.  No, I didn’t take the book, I took the narrative - I simply took the practice of the Jesus Prayer.  

Up and down the mountains of the AT, I prayed the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  That was it.  But what BEGAN happening was far more personal and transformative.  I began to breath it in and out and meditate on each phrase, then each word.  The rhythm of my feet, my heart, my mind and my soul came to resonate with it.  This is what the pilgrim spoke about = coming to “pray without ceasing”

Abba Matoes, one of the early desert fathers of the church, said, “The nearer a man draws to God, the more he sees himself a sinner.  It was when Isaiah the prophet saw God, that he declared himself, “a man of unclean lips.”’ (Isaiah 6:5)  It is hard to miss that truth over the many steps taken saying you are a sinner.

It is also hard to miss the power and magnificence of the word, “Mercy.”  Just that one word becomes a prayer too.  And suddenly, you have the basis for another form of Simple Prayer called “Centering Prayer.”  Referring to the book, “The Cloud of Unknowing (Ch 37),” Simon Tugwell mentions how powerful a one word exclamation can be: “Fire!” yelled by someone running from a burning home is sufficient for a response.  Consider simply “AMEN” and how it is traditionally defined to mean “So be it” or “I agree” or “Lord, make it so.” (9/29/16. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/amen/), it becomes a prayer. Pick any word found in Scripture: Love - Peace - Patience - Faith - Hope - Grace - Jesus - Savior - Spirit: each word, like MERCY, holds a multitude of prayers to be considered.

In just a few moments, we’ll work on a simple pattern for creating your own breath prayer.  My first breath prayer that I used for some time was “Our Father, my God, grant me you.”  But when my wife’s diagnoses came, and I began a journey into what I call "the valley of suck," this prayer seemed so lacking and I chose to go back to praying the Jesus Prayer.  And it was in this STEPPING BACK INTO the practice of the Jesus Prayer, I saw it as a way to INTERCEDE for others especially my wife: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on Heather.”  I would add my kids to my prayers in this way.  

I didn’t have to think of words to say, they came over and over again.  Why?  It is was the practice of being on the trail.  By this time, I was using an Orthodox Prayer Rope and then prayer beads.

When Heather and I received the news in January that her cancer was not responding to the chemotherapy, we were both heartbroken.  As I prayed I found something new rising in me and from it came a new breath prayer: “Jesus, have mercy and grant me comfort.”  It too became a prayer of intercession for Heather and our kids.  Most days, my prayer boiled down to and still does, to “Jesus have mercy” or “Mercy Lord.”

And, this began a pattern of listening to the Spirit more regularly for how I might pray, what is it that I feel or experience a burden for?  It is not just from my heart either, as the Psalms and other scriptures provide guidance as well for how you might pray.  

These steps are nothing magical.  They come in part from Ron DelBene’s pattern but let me say, if you’re attentive to God’s voice, you may find breath prayers coming from other sources.

  1. SIT with God
Find a good time and space where you seem to most connect with God.  However, sitting with God may include other activities.  It is just a way of saying “be aware” of God.  The Spirit of God can speak anywhere.

  1. SENSE God speaking
Ignatius of Loyola was a big proponent of using our imagination in spiritual practice.  Imagine God is speaking and asking: “What do you want?”  But listen carefully too.  God may also be asking you to pray something specifically.  God may say, “This what you are to pray,” or “Look for my words to your prayer.”

  1. SHARE with God
This is practicing “active listening” with God.  Whether it is a word like “mercy” or “forgiveness” that comes or a Bible verse, what resonates with your soul?  This is largely the time of forming the core of your prayer, what the Spirit is speaking to you.

  1. SPEAK God’s name
What is the name of God which fits best your prayer?  That may seem odd.  Ron DelBene encourages the reader to think of a favorite name but I try to consider the wealth of names which are available OR the one which fits the tone or meaning of the prayer.  “Savior” may not be a significant as using “Spirit.”  

  1. SETTLE on a prayer
Here you put it together: the prayer with the name of God.  Speak it out loud.  Chew on it quietly.  Consider its rhythm and where God’s name fits best.  Be willing to change it as you continue to pray it and learn from God.

In the sidebar of my blog are samples of breath prayers. Each week, I take time to listen to the Spirit and my heart and have conversation with God. Using these practices and others, I consider what is a prayer for my week. I share these through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (look up "jedipastorken") and if they are helpful, I encourage you to take them and share them but more importantly, to pray them. Whatever you do, I encourage you most of all to just pray but don't pray boring prayers!

Here are further links you might find helpful.
Ron DelBene's Site  For downloads of Ron's books and links to his YouTube Videos.  

Prayerworks Studio  For the writings and prayer beads of my friend Kristen Vincent.  If you're interested in prayer beads, start here.

JEDIPASTORKEN on YOUTUBE  I have a number of resources here on my blog but also I'm over on YouTube and here is one of my videos giving a quick overview of prayer.


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