"Stillness teaches us restraint, and in restraint we are able to discern what appropriate engagement looks like." – Christopher L. Heuertz
Most of us are constantly busy, active at best and burnt out at worst. When we do stop, many of us have to fight the voices of guilt and shame of not being productive or using our time effectively. Stillness can make us feel restless, useless, wasteful, afraid, or a host of other negative emotions. To avoid the confrontation that stillness presents, we rather jump back on our activity wheel of emails, appointments, tasks to be completed, people to reach out to, and holiday plans to be made. Although in theory we may know, and even admit that spending more time being still would be good for our bodies, minds, relationships, and ability to pray, the impulse to turn into activity instead of stillness is strong.
Here is a prayer exercise that has been practiced over the centuries by followers of Jesus who have come to face the limitations of their own actions, and embraced the call to surrendered faith, which includes learning to quieten themselves in order to listen to God.
Breath Prayer Practice
1. Find a comfortable place where you won't be interrupted. Turn off the noises, and move the distractions out of your reach.
Read slowly Psalm 131 verse 2, "I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother…"
Settle down in a comfortable seated position, or laying flat on the ground on your back. Feel the weight of your body. Relax your muscles, let your jaw drop, and shoulders melt down. Start following your breath coming in and out through your nostrils. Think about your breath as God’s special gift to you – the life he gives to you every time you take a new breath. Can you imagine him gently blowing air into your nostrils and that air filling your lungs up? Thank God for the gift of life, the very breath that you just took.
Examine the quality of your breath. Is it short and shallow, or long and deep? Gently start lengthening the breath and noticing your belly move to its rhythm.
2. Imagine Jesus coming to you, and asking you, “What do you want me to do for you?” In your own heart answer that question in a word or a phrase.
3. Choose a name you want to use for God that reflects your desire for him. Some examples are: “the Good Shepherd”, “Heavenly Father”, “Friend Jesus”, “My God” and “the Spirit of Love”.
4. Now put together the name you chose to call God with and what you are asking Him to do. It could look something like this: “Loving God, help me know your nearness.”
Alternatively, choose one of the prayers below that best reflect your desire.
5. Try quietly calling God by his name when you breathe in (e.g. “Loving God”) and on your breath out express your need or desire (e.g. “help me know your nearness”.) Repeat this for a few times until it feels more effortless, and your words and breathing find a rhythm together.
6. Just be. Enjoy resting in God’s love. Whenever your thoughts start to wonder, gently bring them back to the present moment by recalling your prayer phrase and deep breaths.
7. Thank God for giving you life and being with you.
You can pray this prayer anytime and anywhere. Your very own breath can become a reminder to you of God’s presence with you and the prayer phrase.
Breath Prayer Suggestions:
Lord Jesus, have mercy.
Spirit of God, guide me.
Father God, help me.
Holy One, heal me.
Savior of the world, help.
My God loves me.
Come Holy Spirit, Come.
God is with me, I am safe.
Speak to me, I am listening.
You are the Good Shepherd. I am Your sheep.
God I believe, help my unbelief.
How aware are you of how much of your relationship with God relies on words and activities?
What do you notice about yourself, about your thoughts, emotions, body, longings, and fears when you try to become still?
What helps you to become still and silent?
Is there an image, element, object, or something found in the nature that has become, or could become a reminder for you to take a pause, and become more attentive to God's gentle presence with you?
The topic of the blog is part of a series of teachings on "A Praying Life: Creating Space", which I am currently teaching at my church home at Denver Presbyterian Church. You can listen to this class and others on the church website here.
The Sacred Enneagram, Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher L. Heuertz
Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence by Ruth Haley Barton