A Breath Prayer for Our Time

Apr 11 / Alyssa Bell
I teach a class about the Bible and doubt. This course attracts long-time Christians who have lingering questions about the Bible, people of various faith and non-faith backgrounds, as well as people who feel angry at God or the Church. They, like most people, wrestle with the deep questions of life and often do not have a safe space in which to examine those doubts. Together, as a class, we place a high value on holding faith and doubt in the same space, not as opposites that threaten one another.

At least once in every term, a student will ask me: “If it’s ok to hold faith and doubt together, how do I know what is true?” It’s a fair question, one I wrestle with as well from time to time. As we name what we do know to be true when we are inundated with disorientation, we can find the spiritual footing that we long for.

But how do we name truth when our minds feel so cluttered? How do we remember our own good experiences of God when chaos swirls around?

For me, it helps to come back to simple practices that involve my whole self – mind, body, and spirit. Simply saying words out loud can feel empty somehow.

Ruth Haley Barton says that: “Simply put, prayer is all the ways in which we communicate and commune with God.” [1] Prayer can be The Lord’s Prayer, and prayer can be silence. Prayer can be a long liturgy, and prayer can be a desperate single word cry.

Barton, in Sacred Rhythms, recommends an embodied kind of prayer called a “breath prayer,” a way to simply be with God when our words fail. These simple prayers can be said repeatedly as we breath in and out and as we recall our source of breath. God knows our doubt and meets us in love anyway.

Breath prayers can be deeply personal expressions of the most hidden parts of our souls, whispered in frail trust and uncertainty. They can also be a kind of creed we say in step with our lungs; grounding our faith in basic truths when truth feels hard to grasp.

This morning I muttered a breath prayer that reminded me of what I need to know about God right now. Perhaps you will find it useful as well.

You are here and you are good. You are wise and you are strong.

For me, in my season, I need to remember that Jesus is with me and to be trusted in his goodness. I am not alone. Jesus has wisdom that surpasses my own and strength that carries me when I feel weak.

This is a prayer you can modify depending on what you need to remember about God today.
You are_____and you are_____. You are____and you are _____.

Life is shifting at a rapid pace, and it can be hard to know what or who to hold on to. The Psalmist reminds us that even when we feel ourselves in a muddled pit, God “sets our feet upon a rock, making our steps secure.” Faith in the God of sure footing does not mean our doubts go away, or that they are necessarily bad. Doubts can draw us to ask questions about God that we have never asked before and open our eyes to beauty found in the simple truths of faith.

Question for Reflection
What do you know to be true about God that you could include in your own breath prayer?

How do you experience doubt and faith in your life? Are they in contrast to one another, or is there room for both?

1 Barton, Ruth Haley. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 63.
2 Psalm 40:2, New Revised Standard Version

Alyssa Bell
Alyssa Bell is a tent-making Co-Associate Pastor at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA along with her husband Matthew. They have two daughters, Theresa and Susie. While serving the church, which she loves, she pursues complimentary vocational avenues like teaching and spiritual direction. Alyssa recently completed her Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Spiritual Formation and is in the Spiritual Direction Training Program through the Companioning Center. She has a heart for mothers who minister, either in a church setting or elsewhere. For fun Alyssa enjoys walking, making music, reading mystery novels, and completing puzzles.