The breath prayer can be traced back to the earliest centuries of the church. It is a petitionary prayer in which we bring our requests to God in distilled form. The breath prayer is particularly beneficial in times of stress, high anxiety, and even trauma. Breathing deeply and intentionally restores our equilibrium, calms down our central nervous systems, and helps us stay connected to ourselves and others as we manage the many upheavals of life. As we breathe this prayer in and out, the Spirit of God, who is the Breath of Life, joins us and reminds us that God loves us immeasurably and is ever-present with us.
To practice the breath prayer, set aside a short period of time. Find a place where you can experience some quiet. Take at least 1-2 minutes to go through each step. If your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to the present moment and keep going:
- Sit comfortably and be calm and quiet. Remind yourself that you are in God’s loving presence.
- Imagine God calling you by name. Hear God asking you, “________ what do you need?”
- Answer God with whatever comes honestly from your heart and mind. It may be no more than a single word, such as peace, love, community and hope, or it may be longer.
- Choose a name for God that feels natural and comfortable to you. How do you want to address God in this moment?
- Combine your name for God with your answer to God’s question of “What do you need?” and you have your prayer. For example, “God, let me know your peace,” or “Spirit, anchor me in hope.”
- Now pray by breathing in the name of God and breathing out your petition. That is your breath prayer! Take your time. Repeat this for a number of minutes.
- Come back to this breath prayer throughout the day, especially when you notice your stress level rising or when you feel increased tension in your body. Simply breathe in the name of God, and breathe out your request.
In the early church, this prayer was matched with a story from the Gospel of Mark about Jesus’ healing of man who was born blind. In this story, the man calls out to Jesus using multiple names for him. Jesus asks him, “What do you want?,” and then Jesus heals him. You can read it below:
They came to Jericho. As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)