Under Water

Devotional for Saturday, March 28

underwatercave


Psalm 107:28-30 (NRSV)
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

In yesterday’s devotional, I explored how to breathe during prayer, particularly when we find ourselves anxious. Today, I’m going to teach you a particular visualization technique to enhance your connection with God.

Put the two techniques together, and you have a form of meditative prayer, something a lot of people in our culture don’t practice regularly. Our other, more familiar ways of praying—where we speak our praises, thanks and petitions to God, perhaps focusing on Scripture or a devotional as part of the process—remain critically important to our prayer lives. You may find, however, that meditative prayer techniques are helpful in developing a sense of God’s constant presence.

There are uncountable ways to enter a state of meditative prayer. This is just one I like. I do not remember where I first learned it.

Imagine yourself sitting, standing or lying at the bottom of a deep, clear pool of water. (You should be in one of these prayer postures.) Here’s the good news: God has granted you the ability to breathe as comfortably and freely as a fish. Remember to breathe as discussed yesterday.

If this were a class in Zen meditation, someone might tell you to empty your mind. We’re doing the opposite. We want to be filled with God, and only with God.

As you begin, it helps to think of a word representing what you seek in that holy relationship. I’ve heard people make all sorts of choices: “peace,” “love,” “forgiveness” or “discernment,” for example. I’ve even heard people choose “Jesus” as their word, apparently as they tried to better fathom what it means to be in a personal relationship with God through Christ.

Go ahead and accept that random thoughts and worries will intrude on this time. We’re not going to fight them. Instead, take hold of what distracts you from God, examine the thought for a brief moment, and then release it, allowing it to float to the surface, far above you. Say your chosen word as part of the next exhale, and settle back into experiencing God.

That’s the technique. Simple, huh?

By the way, the more you do this, the longer you will spend in this state before deciding to resurface. In just a few tries, you may have a meditative prayer session where you are surprised at how long you’ve been “under”—half an hour or even an hour might feel like 15 or 20 minutes.

What’s important is that you find yourself deeply aware of God’s presence.

Lord, thank you for the ways you meet us in the midst of storms and in quiet places. Amen.

Life and Breath

inhale-exhale

Devotional for Friday, March 27

The Bible has a lot to say about the not-so-simple act of breathing.

Genesis 2:7: Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Ezekiel 37:9: Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

John 20:21-23: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Acts 2:2-4: And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

In Scripture, the source of life is God’s breath, which we also might think of as the movement of the Holy Spirit. (Both biblical Hebrew and Greek have a word that can be translated as “breath,” “wind” or “spirit.”) While it sounds like an ethereal lesson, we can live it out  in very practical ways, particularly in times of stress.

When I’ve taught people suffering from stress how to pray in a meditative way, the “how to breathe” part of the lesson has been critical. First, you have to position your body so your breathing is most effective. Seated or standing, your back and neck need to be straight, your shoulders squared and hanging from your collarbones as if on coathangers. If you need to lie on your back, relax into the floor, arms down and out slightly from your body.

From here, “breath prayer” begins to line up with core techniques I’ve learned from decades of martial arts practice, principles recently confirmed in books detailing how soldiers and police survive and control violent, high-stress situations. Breathing is automatic, but it can get out of control when the world becomes overwhelming. At such times, we have to take charge of our breathing.

Inhale through your nose deeply, slowly, expanding your lower stomach. Hold at the end of the inhale for a count equal to your time spent inhaling. Exhale through your mouth at the same rate, shrinking and pushing in your lower stomach. At the bottom of the exhale, hold for the same amount of time. Some people who teach this talk about using a “four count” for each step.

Be aware, if your heart is racing, your lungs will fight you at first, particularly as you hold at the bottom of your exhale. Stick with it. If you’re feeling panicked or anxious, repeating this type of breathing will calm you, center you, and allow you to turn to God.

Connecting to God through our breathing makes sense. Made in the image of God and granted the Holy Spirit through our belief in Jesus Christ, we have access to the source of eternal life. Think of deliberate, God-focused breathing as an unspoken prayer request: “God, renew in me what you have poured into the world.”

Peace be with you.

Lord, we thank you for the life you have breathed into us. May we use our lives to glorify you and to the benefit of your dawning kingdom on earth.

Let’s Make a Prayer

list


Devotional for Friday, March 20

Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We’ve all experienced worry at some point in our lives, but I think it is safe to say more of us than usual are feeling an extended kind of anxiety right now. Isolation is hitting many of us hard. Many of our businesses and investments seem in jeopardy, and we fear any light we see in the tunnel is an oncoming train.

God has a lot to say about worry, of course. The Big Guy, with his big-picture, outside-time-and-creation view, tells us repeatedly through prophets, disciples and even the Messiah to fear not, to stop worrying. And when we grasp the big picture, we see why God is able to say this. The hard work is done—Jesus has died on the cross for our sins, and his resurrection is a foretaste of what we will experience.

None of that is to deny, however, that we are little people who perceive our lives to be lived out in one tiny brush stroke on God’s vast canvas. And we worry. So God gave us ways to seek comfort.

Let’s not simply talk today about the greatest tool God has given us, prayer. As a church, let’s join together in prayer. Let’s build a prayer list, and let’s pray over it as we see it grow.

If you’re reading this on the website, at the bottom of this devotional you’ll see either a link saying “Leave a comment,” or an actual comment box. If you’re reading from the automated email that went out, you’ll see a comment button at the bottom.

However you get to the comment section, enter your prayer requests there. We will see those build through the day. FYI, you may not see your prayer appear right away; I have to approve comments before they go on the site. I’ll check regularly for new comments, though.

You check back regularly to read them, too. And throughout the day, pray about what you see!

Lord, as we pray, may our anxieties be transformed to hope and joy. Amen.