by Bruce G. Epperly
The latest post in our on-going Summer Spirituality series.
Summer is an opportunity to take a little breathing space. Virtually every spiritual tradition sees breath as essential to well-being and spiritual growth. But, many of us simply forget to breathe even though the quality of our breath shapes the quality of our lives, and often reflects our state of mind.
A few months ago in a piece in Patheos, I shared the words of one of my spiritual teachers, Allen Armstrong Hunter. These words have shaped my spirituality and given me calm and insight for over thirty years.
“I breathe the spirit deeply in
And blow it gratefully out again.”
Over the years, I have often found a sense of well-being in times of challenge by following the practice of Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.”
I see breath as a gentle way of experiencing God’s peace that passes all understanding. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is reported to have appeared on Easter evening in an upper room where he greets his disciples with the words “Peace be with you” and then:
“He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Often I imagine that these words are addressed to me. With every breath, I am receiving God’s Holy Spirit. With every breath, I am inspired. With every breath, I am rejuvenated and transformed.
Spiritual growth often involves ritual and repetition, and nothing is more repetitive than our breathing. In my use of these breath prayers, I often imagine that every breath I take is an opening to God and that I am breathing the same air as Jesus’ first disciples. In anxious times, this centers me and gives me courage and insight. Throughout the day, in my rest and activity, every breath can be a prayer, a way of opening to God, and gentle effortless way of embodying grace in every situation.
In my work with professionals – pastors, physicians, nurses, and attorneys – I often stress the importance of breath weaving together in one experience of peace, the many events of a day. I invite these professionals to breathe in a sense of peace as they end one task and begin another; as they answer the phone or make a call; as they check e-mail or send a message; as they begin a meeting or leave for home; as they greet their loved ones or go to bed at night. Wholly breathing is holy breathing that enables us to experience peace and energy – and a sense of summer spaciousness – throughout the day. Busyness is not related to the number of activities during a day, but how we experience our many activities. Breathing holy/wholly enables us to discover that we are only doing one thing, opening to God’s presence, in the many varied events of life.
In the days ahead, take time to do what comes naturally – Breathe – and open to God’s loving, healing, spacious, and transforming presence and energy.
Read more from our Summer Spirituality series:
Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary and co-pastor of Disciples Community Church in Lancaster, PA. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry.