By Becky Grisell
“One day the Eternal God scooped dirt out of the ground, sculpted it into the shape we call human, breathed the breath that gives life into the nostrils of the human, and the human became a living soul.” —Genesis 2:7 (VOICE)
The culmination and capstone of God’s creative work was the creation of people. The Creator formed humanity from the very dust of the ground and breathed breath into the nostrils of Adam. Breath is the force that sustains life. It is the life and power of God, given to us. Both the Hebrew ruah and the Greek pneuma are translated as either “breath” or “spirit,” referring to God’s Spirit or our spirit. In tangible and concrete ways, we breathe God with each cycle of breath. The Divine is present with and in each inhale and exhale we take.
Breathing is an amazing, mysterious, and intimate process. Most often it is independent from our conscious awareness. Though to breathe is to be alive, we often forget and become disconnected from this important relationship with our bodies.
Breath also has form—it is form. It is the foundational rhythm by which we live, breathe, and have our being.1 The intentional slowing of your breath by inhaling and exhaling deeply is a proven way to slow down your pulse and oxygenate your mind and heart. The increased supply of oxygen to your brain influences rational thinking and positive relational and social engagement. Deliberate and conscious breathing also creates a place of stillness within, quieting your thoughts, grounding your body, and centering you in the present moment.2 Each breath is an invitation to pause, gain awareness, and receive rather than respond from a place of disconnection, separation, fear, anger, or shame.
Like breath, prayer has a fundamental rhythm in our bodies. Prayer, like breath, can be a form and rhythm.3 A form and rhythm of words and shape, darkness and beauty, alienation and connection, shame and healing. A movement of rhythm beating like a heart. Prayer is breath. By cultivating and creating breath practices, prayer takes shape and forms pathways for integration, healing, and wholeness.
Breath practices are as numerous, diverse, and unique as each of us, taking many different shapes and forms. Let’s explore two different Breath Practices.
A breath prayer is described as a prayer of a word or phrase expressed in the time it takes you to breathe in and out once. Breath prayers can be used throughout the day. They are a way of letting the word of Christ dwell in your richly, to pray without ceasing, and to practice the presence of God.
After some silence, imagine God is calling you by name. Perhaps Jesus is standing before you and calling your name gently asking, “What do you want from me?” Answer Jesus honestly from your heart. It may be a single word such as “healing,” “help,” or “peace.” Or it may also be a phrase such as “lead me into life,” “feel your presence,” or “calm my anxiety.”
Then choose a name for God that is meaningful to you, such as Shepherd, Creator, Healer, or Redeemer. Combine your name for God with your answer to Jesus’ question and create a simple prayer of five to seven syllables. Breathe in the first word or phrase and breathe out the second phrase/word.
“(Inhale) God, (exhale) I need your peace.”
“Holy Spirit, heal me.”
“Savior, cleanse me.”
Breath Prayers are also discovered in Scripture:
“More of you, less of me.” (John 3:30)
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
There’s no limit to discovering your breath prayers. They may be the same each day, or they may change depending on your need and circumstance.
During a period of stillness and quiet, use this breath practice as a touchstone.
Begin by connecting with your intention, your desire to be present to God. Breathe naturally, slowly, and deeply, inhaling Yah and exhaling weh. If a thought, emotion, or sensation arises, observe but don’t latch on to it. Simply return to your breath. You may become distracted numerous times, but each interruption is yet another opportunity to return to Presence and a conscious participation in God’s life. You will begin to develop muscle memory, allowing you to more readily return to the Presence when your body recognizes you have left it.4 I use this breath prayer when I am having trouble falling asleep. It stills my mind, emotions, and body so rest and sleep can arise.
May each breath connect you with yourself, the Holy, and the present moment.
Becky is a trained Spiritual Director, writer, and founder and curator of Cascade Ministries. She places high value on being a safe person and creating a safe and sacred space to explore and connect with God’s activity in all of life. Her approach is holistic, addressing the brokenness of life while focusing on the hope of the Gospel. She received a Master of Divinity with a concentration in spiritual formation. and Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Spiritual Formation. You can find more out about Becky at https://cascadeministries.org/, on Facebook under Becky Grisell, IG at @becky_grisell. She can be contacted directly at email@example.com.
1 Pádraig Ó Tuama, Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community (London, UK: Canterbury
Press Norwich, 2017,) xi.
2 Sarah Knapton, “Deep Breathing Calms You Down Because Brain Cells Spy on Your Breath,” The Telgraph. Science News, March 30, 2017, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/03/30/deep-breathing-calms-brain-cell-spy-breath/.
3 O’Tuama, x.
4 Richard Rohr, “Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 1,” Center for Action and Contemplation, November 20, 2015, https://cac.org/twelve-step-spirituality-week-1-summary-2015-11-21/.
Karen Money. Secret Things. Echo: Let Me Stay a Little Longer, So I Breathe in More of You, September 1, 2005. https://open.spotify.com/artist/2Jbt5wBu0p9iHqNuUTyVve.
Rob Bell, “Breath.” Nooma, May 8, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DpvqWSZPsk.