Breath Prayer

Dr. Sachi Nakamura(JCFN Board Member, Christian Book Translator, Spiritual Director)

This month, I would like to introduce a spiritual discipline called “Breath Prayer.”

Breath prayers are simple and short prayers that are repeatedly recited in your heart as you breathe in and out. It is a simple yet powerful prayer that can be prayed anytime and from anywhere. Breath prayers help us to turn our thoughts and focus back to God and restore our souls when we are feeling confused, anxious, and weary. It can be done anywhere, such as during our commute, while doing household chores, or in our walks. Practicing breath prayer can remind us that the Lord is with us throughout our day. Paul may have had this kind of prayer in mind when he said, “pray without ceasing.”

 

The history of breath prayer is said to go back to the fifth or sixth century.  At that time, there were people known as the “desert  fathers” and “desert mothers,” who lived secluded lives in the Egyptian desert. The prayers that those desert fathers used to pray were passed on to the Eastern church, and became known as the “Jesus  Prayer”. Jesus Prayer is a short prayer consisting of saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,  a sinner.” It is said that they used to pray this as they breathed for tens and hundreds of times each day.  

 

Breath prayer consists of two phrases. As you breathe in, you pray the first phrase. Then, as you breathe out, you pray the second phrase. Since it is hard to do this prayer out loud, we pray in our hearts. For example, if we are using the Jesus Prayer, it will look like this: (while breathing in) Lord Jesus, (while breathing out) have mercy….”

 

When you are actually praying, you do not pray out loud. In Greek, the word for “breath” is pneuma. Pneuma can also mean “spirit.” The Holy Spirit is also called Pneuma. As we slowly breath( pneuma) and prayer, we can become aware of the Pneuma, who lives within us. We are reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit that lives within us to comfort, encourage, empower and instruct us.   

 

There are no rules for what kind of phrases can be used in breath prayer. 

 

Let’s look back to Jesus’ interaction with the blind Bartimaeus in Jericho. Bartimaeus shouted to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Then Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Imagine Jesus gently asking you, “What do you want me to do for you?” What will you ask Jesus for?

“Lord, have mercy on me.”  

“Lord, help me.”

“Lord, be with me.”

 

Another good way is to choose a short Bible passage and use it for meditation in your prayer.  

 

For example, you can pray and meditate on the phrase “The Lord is my Shepherd,” as you breathe. 

Take a big breath as you say in your heart, “The Lord is…” Then, slowly breath out saying, “my Shepherd.” 

 

Or, you may also pray the name of the Lord, Yahweh as you breathe. “Yah,”  “weh.” Again, “Yah,” “weh”.

 

As you breathe out, try to let out the worries, fears, or frustrations in you, or anything that may be pulling you away from God.  As you breathe in, try to take in God’s love, grace, mercy, and the life of God that sustains you as much as you can.   

 

I really hope that you will try this breath prayer for yourself.  

 

Discipleship in the Time of Coronavirus

中村佐知(JCFN理事、霊的同伴者、キリスト教書翻訳者)

How are you doing? The US was a few steps behind Japan in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and several states are now under Stay at Home Orders. Schools, churches, restaurants, convention halls, and any places for gatherings are now closed. Even when we go out for grocery shopping or for a walk, we are told to strictly keep a distance of 6 feet away from each other. The turn of events over the last ten days were so fast-paced that everyone is at a loss. As Japan enters into a new school year, will the schools reopen?  Will people finally be able to go back to work? 

As we were suddenly thrown into this situation, I can imagine that many are feeling quite anxious. This morning, I was reading an article titled “Discipleship in the Time of Coronavirus” and came across this passage. 

“What is the way of Jesus in such a time as this? First, we must remember that we are disciples of the living, ascended, and enthroned Jesus. …… The Jesus who said, “And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” remains/abides with us by his Spirit. When we are tempted to isolate and turn inwards, we need to repeatedly turn our gaze to the availability of Jesus. Throughout our days we need to develop the habit—now more than ever—of finding encouragement and comfort in the real presence of Christ’s love (Phil 2:1). ……. Our Lord, savior, friend, and lover is paying attention to us, the human situation, our needs, and the needs of those around the world. We need to pay attention to him—fixing our eyes, setting our minds, abiding—while we attend to the news, our needs, and the needs of those around us.”

What we choose to pay attention to and focus on will influence our emotions,  cognitions, actions and attitudes. (see Philippians 4:8) The author of the above article recommended several disciples such as breath prayer (Japanese only), stopping occasionally during the day to turn our hearts to the Lord, and praying and meditating on the Lord’s Prayer in the morning, noon and evening. For those who are taking this course, those spiritual disciples are probably already very familiar to you. Even in regards to the coronavirus, may we seek the Lord for discernment to clarify the boundary line between the things we can and should do, as well as things that are beyond us that we need to entrust into God’s good hands, since worrying about it won’t do any good.  

The author of the article says,

“Returning one’s gaze to the competent gaze of Jesus throughout one’s day is not simply a nice idea. Discipleship to Jesus is a learning way (Matt 11:28–30). With Jesus’ leading and the aid of his people down through the ages, we make tangible plans to reorient our minds to Christ and his Father’s kingdom resources in the midst of daily life.”

Even when we are anxious and fearful of what lies ahead, or when we are exhausted by the sheer number of things to attend, may we still turn our eyes to the presence of the One who is with us in the midst of them to encourage, help  and protect us. May we be able to comfort those around us with the shalom of the Lord that is within us. I hope that the spiritual disciplines (*) that we have been learning about through this course will be helpful you to do so.  

 

*Please refer to the spiritual disciples that I have mentioned in the JCFN blog in the past. 

 

Post  articles on the eLearning course “Boundaries from the Point of View of Spiritual Formation” (Japanese only) 

Lent

Dr. Sachi Nakamura (JCFN Board Member, Christian Books Translator, Spiritual Director)

This year, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 26th. Lent is a period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It is based on the 40days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. It is a time to prepare for the resurrection of the Lord by meditating on the suffering and death of Jesus through prayer and repentance, and good deeds for atonement. 

 

Traditionally, the church has made Lent as a time of fasting from certain food such as meat or placing other dietary restrictions, or doing good deeds or practicing certain behaviors in moderation. As  Lent approaches, you may start thinking, “what shall I let go of this year? Should it be sweets or SNS?” I think that whether you choose to restrict certain behavior or not is a matter between you and God.  Ruth Haley-Burton at the Transformation Center in Chicago says this: The question we need to ask God during Lent should not be “what shall I let go of this year?” Rather, we should be asking “How shall I repent and how can I return to God from my heart?” and “Which areas in my life have I strayed from God? What practices will help me get back with God?”    

Bible scholar Dr. Ransom Yamazaki says this;

https://1co1312.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/荒野の40日/) (Japanese only)

 

“Lent is a time to remember and identify with Jesus Christ’s experience of spending 40 days in the wilderness.  No matter how we choose to spend this period, the important thing is to deepen our awareness as God’s people and God’s children and to make our lives further rooted in Christ.”

 

Even if you have never done anything special for Lent in the past, maybe you can prepare for the resurrection of the Lord by reflecting on what may be hindering you from loving God and your neighbor, and seeking God’s guidance about it.”  

 

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