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) 

(日本語) 「日常生活」という修練

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

Over half-a-year ago, I read an article in Christianity Today. The article featured a conversation between a woman doing her doctorate studies at Regent College in Canada and Eugene Peterson. The student had a new-born baby, and was feeling frustrated about being occupied and distracted by her baby whenever she tried to read the Bible. She asked Peterson if he could recommend any spiritual disciples for her to help her get out of her spiritual rut. Peterson asked her this question.

“Is there anything you are doing regularly every day without fail?”

She thought about it. One thing she could think of that she did many times a day was breastfeeding. When she told Peterson that, he replied, 

“That is your spiritual disciple. From now on, pay close attention when you do what you are already doing. Be present.” 

The student (now a pastor’s wife) reflected on that conversation and said this:

“I had a strong temptation to do something for Christ rather than to be in Christ.I was starting to see my daily responsibilities in the home as obstacles to living as a devout Christian. However, in reality, those were the exact places where God wanted to meet with me.  Upon realizing that, my understanding of “submission to God” was expanded to include the simple act of “being in Christ (John 15).”

 

As I read that section of the article, I was reminded of the time when my daughter was battling cancer. Although I had just begun my courses for becoming a spiritual director, I was having to miss many classes. This is what my teacher told me. 

“My heart feels so much compassion and care for you and your daughter, as well as your entire family.  You are living life as it is, not as an interruption to a program.  You are living what you are learning, that God is in the midst of every sacred moment of your life, and that of Miho’s.  You need to put your attention there, and what is happening each day for her, and for you.  ……

Do not worry about deadlines, papers, or anything.  Let go of pressure to finish on time.  What we are about is reflecting on how God is active in your real life, now.  ….”

Taking care of my daughter battling cancer was quite far from what people would call as “daily life.” However, the point is that we need to realize that God is at work in the midst of our daily lives. We need to simply respond to Him from that place. It may be when each day seem monotonous  and repetitive…. Or else, when you find yourself in the midst of suffering that totally alters your course of life. Whatever we are facing, we are called to live out our “daily lives” intentionally while remaining in Christ. We do not need to scramble to live the way we think we should be living. Rather, we need to discern what the Lord is inviting us into; the here and now

As we respond to this invitation, many areas of your daily life may start to look differently. God may bring to light some of your habits, thoughts and response patterns that are distancing you from  God or robbing intimacy with those around you. God may also lead you to incorporate new activities (disciplines) to help you draw closer to Him. At that time, my daily routine included making soup for my daughter in the morning. That became my prayer time. As I chopped vegetables and cooked them, I did them prayerfully as if I was offering them to God. By becoming more aware of God’s presence, each step of preparing the soup became acts of serving in the temple for me.

What are you facing in your “daily life”? What are some things you do routinely? Some of you may feel that you are too busy to find time to be quiet  before God. Spiritual disciplines do not have to look very “spiritual.” Even your commute to work, whether in a crowded train, or through bad traffic on the freeway, can become your place of prayer, a monastery. As you take care of a baby, pick up your children from school, wash dishes, fold laundry, even engage in a difficult relationship with someone at work or school, those can all become opportunities to meet with God as long as you are remaining in Christ. 

God invites us to start now, in the midst of our daily lives. Lord, please help us to respond to your invitation.

Scroll to top