Breathing as Prayer
Dan De Leon, Senior Pastor
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. –Romans 8:26-27
How exactly are we supposed to pray? Well, no one really knows. It’s a mystery. Show me someone who knows the correct method for prayer and I’ll show you someone for whom you should pray.
Sometimes I pray while I’m running. As my heartrate increases with my feet rhythmically hitting the ground, I breathe deeper. Air comes in through my nose and out through my mouth in long inhalations and exhalations. When I’m warmed up, breathing comes more rapidly. Trying to match them with the pace of my stride, shorter breaths come in and out of my mouth until a calm cadence is reached—and the run goes on.
I started focusing on my breathing while running as a form of meditation several months ago. It’s evolved into a means of prayer for me. In the Bible, both the Hebrew word (ruah) and the Greek word (pneuma) for “spirit” mean “breath.” The Spirit of God can be understood as the very air we breathe. I think about that when I’m struggling to find the right words to pray, and I take a deep breath that, as Paul writes in Romans, “intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” And when I’m running, I think about all of the air flowing in and out of my lungs, each of those breaths as the Spirit of God that literally and figuratively, scientifically and spiritually, gives me life. That life—that intercession of God’s Spirit—opens my mind and body to the fullness of prayer. It’s a posture or an orientation that gradually directs my attention—that opens the eyes of my heart, as the writer of Ephesians would say—toward others.
So, as the spirit “intercedes for the saints,” I breathe and silently name loved ones and dear friends who are no longer breathing, people who’ve passed on before me into God’s marvelous light: Bill, Louise, Browning, Breatiz, Dan…
As the spirit “intercedes with sighs too deep for words,” I breathe and silently name people of color, some of whom literally cried out, “I can’t breath,” whose lives were choked out by white supremacy and police brutality: Trayvon, Breonna, Eric, Sandra, George, Amhaud, Tamir…
As I run and run, fumbling with thoughts and words to lift up to the Divine for consolation, comfort, guidance and protection, the Spirit flows through my body with the very air I breathe, turning my attention toward the teachers and students going back to school in the midst of a pandemic; people trying to cope and live in the wake of flooding, hurricanes and earthquakes in Iowa and Michigan, Puerto Rico and Haiti, Australia and China; so many who are isolated and alone because of a virus and our handling of it. I run and I breathe, and God prays for me and through me when I cannot. She is the holy wisdom that prays for all of us with each and every breath.
Whether you’re running, walking, or sitting still behind closed doors in these quarantined times that long for hope, breathe deeply and exhale slowly, and take comfort and courage through that act of prayer that God is with you and keeping us bound together.