Spiritual Practice for the Week: Breath Prayer

The Breath Prayer can help us learn to pray unceasingly. It is a way to have on
our lips what is always on our heart.

In Hebrew the word ruach has three meanings: “wind,” “breath,” and “Spirit.”

The best known Breath Prayer is called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13; Tax Collector). It can be shortened, as in “Jesus, have mercy on me.” It is traced back to the 6th century with the desert fathers, and became popular in the Christian church in the East during the 14th and 19th centuries.

Typically, the Breath Prayer should be 6-8 syllables, and can usually be said as we take one breath. Our desire in practicing a Breath Prayer is to make it personal. It should arise from within our individual need. Since we are all unique, and the Spirit prays within each of us, it seems appropriate that everyone has a special and individual response to God.

Discovering Your Breath Prayer (Set aside 5 minutes)

  1. Sit comfortably (alone).
  2. Let go of anxious, busy thoughts.
  3. Read a short Scripture passage reminding yourself that God holds you in his loving presence. Ex. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46: 10 RSV)
  4. Imagine God is calling out to you by name and asking you, “(your name) what do you want?”
  5. Give God a simple and direct answer that comes honestly from your heart.
  6. Write down your answer.
  7. Determine a name for God that feels suitable or comfortable for you such as God, Father, Lord, Jesus, Holy One, Kind Shepherd, Abba, Yahweh, etc.
  8. Now put the two (name of God and specific desire) together, saying it silently.
  9. Work with this prayer until it is fine tuned and becomes your own.

Sample Breath Prayers

Jesus, let me feel your love / Jehovah Jireh, be my provider / Holy Wisdom, Guide me
O Lord show me your way / Abba, I am your child / Let me know your peace, O God
Holy One, heal me / Lord, carry my burden / Abba Father, let me feel your presence.
Alleluia, have mercy, Jesus / Jesus, have mercy on me

Let the prayer flow naturally. Do not force it. It may fit naturally with the breaths you take, but don’t worry about it if it doesn’t. Repeat it over and over several times. If desired and needed, take several breath prayer breaks throughout the day. In the space below write a favorite name for God or Jesus and a prayer that’s currently on your heart.