Breath Prayer 1: Breathing with God Through Your Day

Breathe

This is the first installment of my Spiritual Practice of the Month series. Each month, I’ll post a description and a guide to a new spiritual expression meant to help us experience God and the freedom he desires for us in deep and fresh ways. You will also be able to follow this series on my Instagram account, ravishedbylight, where I will also be posting a new Bible Verse of the Week every Monday.

Breath prayer, like most contemplative practices, helps us become increasingly aware of God with us in every moment and circumstance of our lives.  There is more than one way to engage in breath prayer: one focuses on concentrated periods of prayer while another disperses the prayer throughout your entire day. For this post, I’m going to focus on the latter. It’s particularly good for busy seasons where stillness is hard to find or for people who may struggle with what’s typically thought of as prayer in evangelical circles (an unscripted conversation with God, eyes closed, while sitting or kneeling).

I’m going to shamelessly steal most of this post from my husband’s newsletter to our church earlier this week. He writes about his initial skepticism about spiritual direction as well as his encounter with God through breath prayer. I’ll follow with a step-by-step guide to experiencing breath prayer for yourself. (Use this link to skip the story and go directly to a printable breath prayer guide.) Here’s my husband’s story:

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I meet once a month with a Spiritual Director, Bill. He’s a man of wisdom, peace, and curiosity. He helps me explore my relationship with God, asking me to get specific about what God is saying to me and what God might be inviting me to.  Honestly, when I started meeting with him, I wanted to quit after about 2 sessions. At first, I didn’t get the point – I already read the bible, I pray, I try to obey what God is telling me – I thought, “Why do I need somebody else to do this with?”

Then God started talking to me.

During our times of discussion, prayer, and reflection, God began to show up and say things to me that were completely new and unexpected! It usually wasn’t Bill telling me “I think God is saying….” it was just us being quiet & reflective together, giving me space for God to speak his voice to me directly. Those things that God has been speaking to me have shaped the direction of my life and ministry.

Let me give you an example: recently, meeting with Bill, as we were talking about the kind of life that God desires for each of us, as we prayed, I heard the Lord say to me “A life governed by the Spirit.”

Romans 8.6

And that was it. It honestly didn’t seem like much at the time, but I could tell it was important. Bill asked me how I could explore that thought and we came up with the idea of “Breath Prayer.” Basically, I walk around all day and I pray a simple, one-sentence prayer under my breath wherever I go.

“Holy Spiritgovern my life.” I try to say it 100 times a day, reflecting on the meaning and letting the prayer speak to me and change me. In the days since I started praying this prayer, it’s meaning has exploded to me with implications I had never realized!

I work through it piece by piece – I’m asking my life to be governed by the Holy Spirit – not governed by my wallet (money), my watch (time & schedule), my will (selfish desires), etc. I don’t want my life to be governed by anyone or anything else by the Holy Spirit – that’s my prayer and declaration as I pray this 100 times a day.

As I ask the Spirit to govern my life, I’m asking him to rule, to make the decisions, to set the course, to provide for me, to protect me. I want his governing presence in the decisions I make myself, and in the circumstances that I find myself in.

When I ask the Spirit to govern my life, I’m submitting myself to him in every aspect of my life – my decisions, my interactions, my activities, my day-to-day life and looking ahead to the whole rest of my life. He gets to govern my body, my mind, my heart, my words, my actions – my whole life!

It’s a simple prayer – Holy Spiritgovern my life – but prayed over and over every day, it’s had a huge impact on me in just a short amount of time!

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Below is a guide to practicing breath prayer for yourself. You can also find the instructions in a printable pdf form if you click the link.

Breath Prayer

Ask the Lord for a simple word or phrase that encapsulates his invitation to you at this moment of your life. It may be a verse, a snippet of a song, something has said to you recently, or something entirely new from God.

Once God has spoken this word or phrase to you, commit to saying it to yourself throughout the day, during your morning routine, as you go to work or spend time with your family, as you do your household chores, watch sports, hang out with your friends, go on a date, brush your teeth. (You get the idea.) 

As you spend time with the prayer, be aware of how its meanings deepen and change. What happens if you emphasize one word instead of another? How is the prayer beginning to make itself known in different aspects of your life? Notice how God is changing you through the prayer.

Stay with the same prayer, even when you may experience boredom or resistance, until you sense God inviting you into something new.

Doing the Examen with Kids

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For around 2 years now, I’ve been using the Reimagining the Examen app before I go to sleep. It’s a modern take on the Ignatian Examen of Conscience, in which you imaginatively re-live the hours of your day with God. You ask God to shed light on those things he wants to bring to your attention, and what your response to them should be (gratitude? repentance? a request for help?) both in the moment and in how you prepare for the day to come.

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The app comes with over a dozen variations on the traditional examen, and you can either go through the previously set order or pick and choose according to how you feel that day.  Some of the examens have a musical accompaniment, and you can choose the type of music or sound as well (quiet piano, guitar, rainfall, ocean waves, etc.).Screenshot 2018-07-05 at 12.28.45 PM

Probably around a year ago, I started doing my nightly examen with my seven-year old as part of our tuck-in routine, and it quickly became one of the highlights of my day.  We don’t always do every question, but we almost always do question 2, which asks us to review the blessings of the day, both big and small. Usually her blessings are simple, joyful things like, “I got to play with my cousin today” or “I got to eat ice cream” or “My mommy is my blessing.”

She’s too young to really process some of the more high-level questions, but with a little translation and explanation, she’s able to engage on a surprisingly deep level. For example, one of the examens asks, “Where was Jesus with you today?” Her answer: “On the playground, during break time. He was watching me play.”

Several weeks ago, after a long day at the beach for the kids and their dad (I was home  working but also in the deliciously cool air conditioning), our examen topic was “Am I Free or Unfree?” This wasn’t her first time around the contemplative block, so she knows by now that “free,” in Ignatian Speak, means filled with hope, faith, and love and drawn towards God, while “unfree” means the opposite: filled with fear, mistrust, and selfishness and drawn away from God. Still, I was not expecting her response. She immediately jumped in with, “I was unfree today. Definitely.

When I asked why, she said – very emphatically – “because I was terrorized because the waves were so big and I got water in my eyes.” After I’d gently corrected her – “I think you mean terrified” – she elaborated. “Yeah, I was terrified and traumatized because the waves were so strong.”

The next step was to imagine that moment of unfreedom – in this case, fear – but this time imagining God there with you. I asked her, “Can you see God there with you? How does God being there change what you felt or experienced?”

She said, “He helps me to not be terrified and traumatized because I know that he’s with me and my Daddy’s with me too, and he’ll help me if I drown.”

“What do you think God is saying to you?” I asked.

“I think he’s saying I don’t have to be terrified and traumatized the next time but I can just have fun.”

I was blown away by the simplicity and insight of her response. I am beyond grateful for the way the examen has acclimated her to expect to encounter God every day, to hear his voice, to access and give expression to her inner life, to build her faith through direct experience. Doing the examen together has also built our relationship as we communicate about our emotions and pray together at bedtime. I wish I had known about this tool when my two older children were at this age.

If you have children of any age, I encourage you to find an examen routine that works for you. If you prefer a paper version to an app, you can try the Reimagining the Examen book or ebook or, as an alternative, try Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. (Read a short description of Sleeping with Bread on my Spiritual Direction Links and Resources page or read my review of the book for a more in-depth approach.

 

Header photo credit: https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/prayers/10-childrens-prayers-simple-and-easy-for-kids-to-pray.html

“To Steal, Kill, and Destroy”: Anxiety and Spiritual Direction

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I’m excited to share that I just had a short article published in Connections, the online publication of Spiritual Directors International, which is – quite self-explanatorily – an organized community for spiritual directors, also known as spiritual companions, or people who help other people become more aware of where and how God is present in their lives. (Hint: He’s everywhere – if we just learn to look!) SDI claims “more than 6,500 members in 42 countries around the world.”

In my article, “Facing Performance Anxiety in Spiritual Direction” (p. 7 of the newsletter), I describe a bit of what it’s like to be a new spiritual director and to feel my inner “demons” of insecurity and fear triggered by something that happens in a direction session as well as how my peer supervisors helped me get to the bottom of what was bothering me.

Here are two short snippets from the piece.Screenshot 2018-05-25 at 11.42.41 AM

 

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And here’s the header image the editor chose: Screenshot 2018-05-25 at 11.47.33 AM

That’s me, facing down my fears! Obviously on a day where I’m wearing fake eyelashes.

(You can find the complete article and the full edition of Connections here.)