Developing Spiritual Lifestyle Practices - Day Four: Attending the Breath
Today we are continuing our exploration of the twelve lifestyle disciplines that Fr. Richard Rohr outlines in his book Just This. Today we're exploring what he calls Attending the Breath.
Very nearly every religious tradition includes breath-prayers in their liturgies, meditative practices or worship.
And by "breath-prayer" I mean the practice of deep breathing or at the very least a focus on the breath while one is praying, worshipping, meditating, etc.
When I was growing up, the fundamentalist Christian churches I was a part of taught us to be very wary of things like meditation, deep breathing and the like. They associated it with Eastern religions, New Age mysticism and ultimately cults, hippie communes and other assorted debauched things.
So it wasn't until much later in life that I began to understand the importance of paying attention to my breathing while I prayed. It was actually during a time of guided meditation when I was simply focused on breathing that I had a vision of Jesus that changed my life.
But that's a story for another day.
When Fr. Richard says that we need to make it a lifestyle practice to attend to our breath what he means is simply this: We need to slow down, and be in the moment, fully present, aware and ready to experience God. And attending to our breath enables us to do this more effectively.
You see, breathing is the most elemental thing that we do as human beings. It is the thing from which all other things are enabled--created, if you will.
It seems right and fitting that it is from this place that we can find our deepest connection to God, and where we can actually think deeply, ruminate over our struggles and triumphs with clarity, connect with the Divine without messy encumbrances.
Poet Scott Cairns puts it like this:
Attend for a moment
to your breath as you draw it in: regard
the breath's cool descent, a stream from mouth
to throat to the furnace of the heart.
Observe the queer, cool confluence of breath
and blood, and do your thinking there.
In the ancient Hebrew tradition, there was a belief about the name of God being spoken when we breath. Yahweh... Yahweh... The belief stated that from the time we are born until the moment we die, we never stop speaking the name of God as we breathe.
I've always liked that.
And it makes sense then that when we are quiet, when we attending to our breath and are present in the moment that we are able to also feel more connected to God.
It's not easy to do this, to be fair. I have an incredibly hard time shutting down the voices in my head, the demands of my day, the real needs of the people around me. It's hard to find quiet even when there is nothing but silence around me.
Which is why it's so important to find ways to attend to my breath, and shut out the noise in my head.
Sometimes I have to put in earphones with beautiful, instrumental music, or nature sounds to quiet the noise around me and within me. Or better yet, I will also find space outside in nature to hear the sounds for real.
And then I just breathe... speaking the name of God. Yahweh... Yahweh... Yahweh...
It's in those moments that I often feel the presence of God almost tangibly. I become more aware of the colors of the world around me, and there is a "thickness" in the air that can only be described by the Hebrew word for God's "glory"--the word kavod.
Literally translated, kavod means "heaviness," or "weightiness." And that feeling of heaviness is something I long to experience, but typically I can't access it unless I let go of the noise, silence the voices... and breathe.
May you find space today in your day to practice being attentive to your breath.
Be mindful that you may be speaking the name of God as you breathe in and breathe out, becoming more and more connected to God, thinking deeply about who you are and what God might be leading you to do.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.