FIRST: Breath Prayer
Over the course of my four years at Olivet Nazarene University, Brennan Manning visited twice and had a profound spiritual impact on me. He taught us the practice of “Breath Prayer” and it changed my life.
You’ll find several versions of “Breath Prayer” out there, but I’ll share my experiences with his teaching.
According to Brennan, the human respiratory process consists of 7 “beats.” Two elongated beats on the inhale, and 5 faster beats on the exhale. Try thinking as you breathe in, “One…Two…” and as you breathe out “One, Two, Three, Four, Five.”
On that day, in that auditorium, this man got close to 3,000 college students to count and breathe and it wasn’t weird to any of us. Or at least to very many of us…
He (Brennan Manning) taught us the practice of “Breath Prayer” and it changed my life.
Once you find your rhythm, and he said it might vary from person to person, you start to replace the numbers with words. First, he told us to find a name for God that has special meaning. Examples might be “Yahweh,” “Jesus,” “Savior” or “Father.” For me, the name that resonated most deeply was “Abba.” So those were my first syllables.
We breathed together, using that name to begin our prayer. For several moments, every inhale carried that name to our hearts and minds. It’s hard to pray out loud while inhaling, so it’s ok if you want to keep the name as a mental exercise while you breathe in.
Once we were familiar with that, it was time for the exhale. Five syllables that express a desire, a phrase of acknowledgment or praise, or even the names of your closest loved ones. “Fill me with your love,” “Shower me with grace,” or a friend of mine used Moses’ prayer, “Father, let me see your face.”
He told us not to feel locked into the five syllables. If you find four that work better for you and your rhythm of breathing, those are for you.
It took a few minutes for me to find it, but as soon as I did, it resonated deeply.
“Abba, I belong to you.”
We were encouraged that day to remember this breath prayer and to take it as our own, a whisper to and from God that reminds us of His participation in our lives. As I walked around campus, I would settle into the pattern of praying as I breathed. I looked forward to walking from this building to that one alone and would occasionally ditch a group of friends to walk and breath and pray in solitude. While it’s not on every breath I take any more, I still find myself slipping into that comfortable prayer when I need it the most. Whether I’m all alone or things are getting crazy, whether I’m on a long drive or about to speak at an event, whether I’ve kept up with all that is going on or I’m getting lost in the details, I continually find myself breathing and praying…
“Abba, I belong to you.”