By Bruce Epperly
Pentecost is the season of breath. The New Testament describes three life-changing encounters with the Holy Spirit. In the wake of the resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples, both men and women, proclaimed "Peace be with you" and then "breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'" (Jn. 20:21-22). Nearly six weeks later, on the day of Pentecost, a mighty wind blew through Jerusalem, inspiring the disciples to go out into the world. Unhindered by race and gender, God pours the Divine Spirit on all flesh, inspiring visionary, prophetic, and paranormal experiences (Acts 2:1-21).
Paul's letter to the Romans describes God's Spirit moving through all creation, human and non-human, and then asserts that God's Spirit "intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). The Holy Spirit is present in all things -- the Spirit is embodied and the body is inspired. God's Spirit moves through both the conscious and unconscious mind.
While God's graceful Spirit precedes all of our efforts, and inspires us even when we are unaware of it, the spiritual journey involves awakening to the many and diverse movements of the Spirit in our lives. We can "practice Pentecost" on a daily basis through a simple breath prayer. During seminary and graduate school, my wife Kate and I encountered Allan Armstrong Hunter, a retired United Church of Christ pastor, who taught us a breath prayer, grounded in the affirmation that God's Spirit is as close as our next breath. Over the years, we have lived with this breath prayer, teaching it to laypersons and pastors, and claiming it as essential to our own spiritual practices.
Based on the affirmation, "I breathe the Spirit deeply in," this prayer form is simple, but life transforming. Begin by finding a comfortable position, with your back straight and feet on the floor. Take a few cleansing breaths, letting go of any stress. Then, gently inhale and exhale, experiencing opening to God's Spirit with each breath. As you inhale, silently repeat the words, "I breathe the Spirit deeply in." Experience yourself being filled with God's Spirit from head to toe. As you exhale, let go of any burdens that you may be experiencing. You may choose to say as you exhale, "I breathe the Spirit gratefully out" or "I breathe the Spirit joyfully out" or whatever describes your current personal condition.
This simple breath prayer connects us with God's presence within our lives. This practice is helpful not only as a walking prayer or morning contemplative prayer, but a way of experiencing God's presence in challenging situations. Filled with God's breath -- the breath of the Spirit -- we can experience peace amid conflict and uncertainty.
Psalm 150:6 proclaims, "Let everything that breathes praise God." When we practice this simple breath prayer regularly, we discover that every breath can be a prayer and every moment an opportunity for divine inspiration. "Breathe the Spirit deeply in."