Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Recently in a podcast I was listening to between Alexander Shaia and Mirabai Starr, Shaia was talking about the passage which begins John’s gospel:
“This text is not about something that happened back then but is about the eternal now that is happening in us. That we are here in this moment because the Holy One is breathing us. And the Holy One is breathing, every cell in the cosmos, there’s one source . . . therefore we’re already brother and sister, not only to each person, but to every tree, every ounce of water, every cell in the cosmos.”
What a stunning image – the Holy One is breathing in us and in all creation and that breath connects us intimately to one another.
When Broadleaf Books invited me to write a book about the practice of Breath Prayer I replied with an enthusiastic yes. Breath has long been a profound ally for me in becoming more fully present to myself and for easing anxiety in difficult moments. Much of what I had learned came from yoga tradition, but breath prayer has a rich and deep history in monastic tradition as well. The desert monks would bring their full attention to each moment by praying with each breath until the prayer was praying them.
My yes to this project came just before the pandemic began and so my days of lockdown and compassionate retreat were guided by this practice. The long days of staying close to home in so much uncertainty were eased by this invitation to grow more intimate with the sacred ordinariness of my life. Showering became an opportunity for grace and gratitude, as did preparing meals, snuggling with my dog Sourney, and the simple act of awakening each day. All of these holy moments became sanctified by my attention to them. Breath prayer became a way for me to see the beauty and holiness more deeply. Being forced to stay at home meant I could not run or distract myself in the usual ways.
Out of this furnace of a challenging time also came the blessings of renewed practice. There was also the profound gift of knowing I was exploring this on behalf of our community as well. I listened for what kinds of moments and situations people would long to find prayers for. As a result I created forty breath prayers in the book to also include moments of awakening in the middle of the night or being overcome by climate anxiety.
There is also a section at the end inviting the reader to create their own breath prayers. Ultimately that is my hope for this book, that those reading will be empowered to listen to the prayers rising up from their hearts in quiet moments and letting those words sustain them.
I invite you to experiment with breath prayers this week. The traditional prayer the desert monks prayer was “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God (inhale), have mercy on me a sinner (exhale).” The idea was to gently repeat this prayer throughout the day as a way of anchoring your awareness in the divine presence.
You might prefer to pray different words. For example, you can repeat this simple prayer: “breathe in love, breathe out love.” Or take a much-loved scripture passage and merge with your breath: “be still and know (inhale) that I am God (exhale).”
The idea is to rest into the prayer and the breath until you know that it is not you breathing, but the Holy One in you. It is not you praying, but the Holy One within your heart.
(Your last chance to order a completion pack for our dancing monk icon cards. Sales end August 31st. A new complete set with larger cards and custom box and booklet will be available to order later in September).
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Image © Christine Valters Paintner