Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Tomorrow we begin a journey through my newest book Breath Prayer: An Ancient Practice for the Everyday Sacred. We are so excited to be diving deeply into this beautiful contemplative practice in community with our retreat starting tomorrow. I will be leading a weekly live Zoom session on Mondays (always recorded) with poetry, songs, and meditation. John will be reflecting on scripture passages which highlight breath and Amanda Dillon will be inviting us into sacred seeing with reflections on art that illuminate these passages. Wisdom Council member Jamie Marich will be inviting us into embodied practices each week. There will be reflection questions and a vibrant facilitated forum for sharing.
I offer you an excerpt from my Breath Prayer book. Because we are entering into Advent and it is a time for lighting candles I share this prayer to offer as we ignite the sacred flame and behold what it illuminates in our lives.
Lighting a CandleI light a flame
all is sacred
here and now.
The act of lighting a candle creates a shift in intention and energy of the room. Most religious traditions use candles on their altars as a symbol of divine presence or a desire for illumination. For Shabbat services every Friday evening, the candles are lit to welcome the Queen of Sabbath who bestows her gift of rest freely.
In Christian churches for Advent, each week for four weeks, a new candle is added to symbolize the light growing in the darkness. In November candles are lit in remembrance of those who have died. In churches we light candles to represent the prayers we bring. The burdens may feel heavy at time, but fire has a way of purging and purifying.
If we want to create a special atmosphere, we dim lights and set out candles. Something about the warmth of flame rather than a light bulb touches something primal in us.
How often do we light a candle in our daily lives? There are so many opportunities – at the start of the day, as we sit down to meditate or pray, when we sit down to journal or make art, for a meal, when we take a bath, when having a conversation with a beloved one.
Consider finding time each day to light a candle – to mark your prayer time, your mealtime, bathing, or some other activity you want to sanctify. Make a commitment to this act daily – both the lighting of the candle as well as the practice it accompanies.
This simple act signals to us that we are crossing a threshold, deepening our awareness of how the sacred is present here, now, always. This is true in all moments, but certain ritual acts help us to pause and remember, to pay attention. In some ways it is the physical equivalent of the breath prayer – a way to remember that the holy is here now. Lighting a candle simply magnifies what is already true and amplifies the prayer we say with our breath.
Your prayer each day might be simply to light a candle for five minutes and repeat the breath prayer gently to yourself during this time. Decide on when you will incorporate this practice into your daily rhythm. Find a candle you love, or a simple beeswax one will do. Begin with a few deep, quiet breaths as you light the lighter or strike the match. As you touch the flame to the wick offer this prayer:Breathe in:I light a flame
Breathe out:to remember
Breathe in:all is sacred
Breathe out:here and now.
Once the flame is lit, sit for several minutes just repeating this prayer while gazing on the flame. Let the flame be an anchor for your attention along with the words you are speaking. Breathing in say I light a flame, breathing out say to remember. The root of the word remember is re-member, which means to make whole again. Our loving attention and awareness reminds us of our original wholeness.
Continue the prayer breathing in, all is sacred, breathing out, here and now. The Sufi poet Hafiz writes: “Now is the time to know that all you do is sacred.” And St. Benedict prompts you to remember that each moment of time is sacred, each person you encounter is sacred, and each object you interact with is sacred too.
I recommend resting into this candle-lighting breath prayer for five minutes before transitioning into whatever sacred activity you were lighting the candle to mark.
You might also call on this prayer in moments when you don’t have a candle available but are in need of reminding of the sacredness of all moments. You can light a candle in your imagination, calling forth the flame of love in your heart which St. John of the Cross describes in his poetry. This flame burns perpetually, but we can make it a practice to tend it and connect with it in quiet moments so we can remember it is always present when we need it.
To hear me speak more about the ancient practice of breath prayer, listen to the Ruah Space podcast where I was interviewed this week.
Please join us tomorrow for the Breath Prayer companion retreat for Advent. Melinda will also be leading us in a lovely slow yin yoga practice on Thursday to help us honor the slowing rhythms of winter. And next Saturday is my retreat Birthing the Holy on the wisdom of Mary and the sacred feminine for our journey.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
PS – My poem “Waxing and Waning” was published in the Bearings journal online. Click here to read the poem.
 “Today” by Hafiz. The Gift: Poems of Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. Penguin, 1999.