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.