A reflection by Christina Brennan Lee for November 12, 2023.
Life moves at warp speed for many of us.
So many have-to’s, so many must-do’s, so many want-to’s, so many didn’t do’s…so many shoulds, coulds, woulds … so little time. How do we know how to prioritize what is most important? How can we stop doing so much and find time to just be?
Too many of us ~ me included ~ are fast-ing through life, racing toward goals real and imagined that collide with each other. The clock and the calendar must be in collusion ~ how did it get to be this late; wait ~ is it Wednesday, Saturday, or Monday already?
Mystic/Trappist Monk/Author Thomas Merton (1915-1968) wrote:
“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time or no imagination left for being. As a result men [sic] are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have ~ for their usefulness.”
As we plow deeper into this part of the year, heading toward Thanksgiving with Christmas shopping on our minds, Advent is meant to remind us of the why we are celebrating the gift of Christ’s birth more than the wrapped packages under the tree, and we all know it but how do we do it? We have a couple of weeks until Advent begins but this is a good time to begin to prepare spiritually for our time of further preparation. Sure, sure, praying is important, meditation is very useful, but to begin to move from fast-ing through life to a bit more slow-ing, breathing is one simple habit to begin. But we all breathe so what am I talking about? What I mean is, intentional and attentional breathing and here’s a way:
Start with three deep breaths in and then out ~ right now (you’re not reading this during the sermon are you?).
Slowly work up to six over the rest of the day. If you are breathing deeply enough you may feel a bit woozy at first but it will go away with regular intentional practice. Once you have mastered six deep breaths, begin your day with ten as you wake, repeat again at mid-day, and again just before bed. Add another time or two whenever you think of it.
At least twice a day, stand and hold your hands and arms together in a prayer position, up in front of your face, with the tips of your fingers at your forehead. Imagine filling a balloon in your abdomen/belly by pushing it out on the inhale while raising your arms at the elbows and keeping your hands together. Hold the air in for a count of three. Then, with your hands together, close your elbows, using them as a bellows to exhale the breath, counting to three as you pull in your abdomen/belly to empty. Breathe through your nose on the inhale and through your mouth on the exhale. Soon you’ll be deep breathing in and out regularly without realizing it, but still stop intentionally, using your arms and counting on the inhale and exhale several times a day.
Once you feel comfortable with the posture of intentional breathing, you can then turn it into breath prayer. That can be something like, on inhale: Jesus be with me now; on the exhale: and I will be with you. There are no right or wrong words! Use whatever works for you such as Jesus in, help this world out, or help someone you name or yourself.
Even without the standing posture, deep breathing as breath prayer can calm, slow, and center us in traffic, a crazy day at work, or in any stressful time.
You can also check YouTube for a demonstration of “How to deep breathe properly.” It can reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and stress, and increase productivity at the same time! Just think of it as fasting from inattentive, non-intentional fast-ing through the precious time we have in this life.
Dearest Holy Parent, today I will give up trying to be everywhere, trying to do everything, and trying to live into everyone else’s wants and expectations for my life. Today I will take on stealing time from my worldly life to spend with You ~ my God ~ as a way to build up my spiritual life. I pray for Your Presence as I start with just five minutes each day breathing deeply with intention, even if I have to do it hiding in the bathroom or the laundry room. I do want to be more faithful in my prayer life. To that end, I will take small slow steps starting with a pause in my busy-ness for deep breathing several times a day, and move toward small, short prayers ~ while breathing ~ just to say, “Hello, God, this is me, I’m glad we’re here in this moment together. I’ll come back more often, I promise.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Every week, Christina Brennan Lee writes the Prayers of the People we use in our worship services on Sundays. She also leads weekday prayer services and serves on the SsAM Vestry. Click here to see her People’s Prayers website.