Did you know that your very first and your last breath in this life are prayer? I came across this thought in a video where Richard Rohr spoke about the Yahweh prayer. Apparently the letters of the Hebrew word Yahweh are pronounced without using the lips or tongue, and whispering them sounds like breathing in and out. No matter what religion, ideology or culture, people still constantly breathe the name of their Creator. That image describes quite well my feelings regarding the intimateness of my relationship with God.
I like the awareness of breathing in prayer, and the simpler the better. I’d like to share with you now my own prayer which draws together what I’ve learned of Pilates breathing exercises, the Jesus prayer and Celtic circling prayer. Circling prayer is drawing a circle around you pointing at the ground with a finger while turning a circle. It is to keep you safe, and you pray about things that you would like to keep inside and outside the circle. The words for circling prayer might be:
Circle me O Lord,
keep hope within,
keep despair out.
Pilates teaches a breathing technique and I often use it to regain better posture and to relieve tension in the upper body and especially my neck which causes problems. The Jesus prayer is used especially in the Eastern Church tradition, and the aim in simple terms is to become still and humble before God. It can be prayed by breathing in during the words “Jesus Christ Son of God” and breathing out for “have mercy on me, a sinner”. Some people adopt shorter forms.
My prayer is a combination of these. When breathing in, I think of something which I would like to prevail in my life, and breathing out, I think of something I want to get rid of. So I might pray about belief – unbelief (as the man who said to Jesus: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”). Examples of other good pairs of opposites are peace – restlessness, calm – nervousness, trust – fear, joy – sadness, love – hatred, forgiveness – bitterness, life – death and so on.
There are three stanzas, and I stay with each one repeating it for a while to the rhythm of my breathing, only moving onto the next once I’m fully confident with the first one, once I fully own what I’m saying. I breathe in God’s divine quality and breathe out my own failing. The choice of the word depends on what I’m feeling or in need of at that time. I might sit already in prayer, lie down while practising pelvic floor muscles or stand waiting for the bus! The breathing flows in and out slowly, with a break in between.
In you there is peace – in me there is restlessness.
Your peace – my restlessness.
Peace – restlessness.
I find this really helpful when I’m stressed or worried or if my mind wonders when I’d like to focus in prayer. It can also help with being mindful/living in the moment and de-cluttering my mind from the nonsense that fills it. What do you struggle with at the moment, and what would be a good opposite to pray with? Let me know if you find this helpful.