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.