From the Clerk’s Corner- “Breath Prayers”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” my father would mutter under his breath whenever he was emotionally distressed. As the eldest of then three young boys, I wondered if my father was upset with something we had done to displease him. Being raised in another traditional faith in the 1950’s, I thought my father was being profane –wasn’t that sinful? In a culture of “children were seen and not heard”, not one of us dared to even raise the question to my father! Dad’s word was like God’s authority to us. But that was then and this is now: I have come to see that perhaps my father was really praying for help, that he was– in his way– reaching out to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to calm and center himself. Instead of utilizing the oft-suggested secular “counting to ten”, he was actually relying upon his faith praying for heavenly assistance! This was his “default prayer”, an invocation he reverted to use automatically when feeling distressed! Upon reflection, I admitted that I did not have such a prayer in my “spiritual portfolio”; perhaps I needed to invest in one, a default prayer that would pay spiritual dividends down the road — an automatic muttering that would give glory to God rather than besmirch His name!
Do you have a default prayer to help you cope with an unexpected distressful situation? From my life’s observation most people do not and probably have never given this a thought. Many people under distress simply blurt out “OMG”, “GDI” or “JC” without thinking. As Christians we ought to do better than that; we can move from the profane to the sacred—even in our mutterings!
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” is the quintessential default prayer to use at any time. It quickly sets my mind and heart upon the One I can truly rely upon to help me through difficult times. It uplifts my plaintive cry for mercy –“help me Lord in my distress!” It is one of the oldest prayers in the Christian community of faith, dating back to the third century from the Eastern Orthodox tradition; it is considered to be one of the greatest treasures of Christianity! I learned about “the Jesus Prayer” last year while on a three-day monastic retreat. With a little practice, this prayer can become your default prayer too! Now say (under your breath): “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” –and repeat. This is a “breath prayer” because it is said in rhythm with one’s natural breathing. Inhale the first part “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” then exhale “has mercy on me, a sinner” –and repeat. When we connect the power of the Holy Spirit with “the breath of life”, we can fathom the deeper spirituality of “breath prayers” —breathing new life into our souls! This practice of literally breathing our prayer lends itself to inhale the holiness and power of Jesus Christ and to exhale our petition. It is a “centering prayer”, a prayer of consent to God’s presence and action to me. I let other thoughts go –to create room to return to the presence of God. I focus on Christ Jesus acknowledging Him as both Lord and Savior of my life, the Son of the Living God –and my dependence upon His mercy, compassion, and divine forgiveness.
“The Jesus Prayer” is the ultimate source of intercessory prayer; the more I live with it, the more it will live with me! Instead of “cursing the darkness” or “counting sheep” on a sleepless night, practice repeating this prayer — embed it into your consciousness as a profound gift from God, to be in continual communion with Him, as the Apostle Paul would say “pray without ceasing!” Breathe in and out s-l-o-w-l-y:“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” —and repeat again and again until it becomes your default breath prayer! One last thought to seriously ponder is the payoff of this sound investment: when taking your final breaths of life, what better words — indelibly inscribed on your mind, in your heart, and within your soul — can be uttered from your lips than “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”!
. –Rob Riehl, clerk of session, ruling elder