Breath prayer is a short petition, repeated in the space of one inhalation-exhalation cycle, that acknowledges the natures of both the Lord and the petitioner.
1. Sit comfortably with your back straight and close your eyes.
2. Pay attention to your breathing. Focus on breathing will probably exaggerate the intake and output a little. Wait until a comfortable rhythm has returned.
3. Ask Jesus to be present, to lead, to guide, and to protect. Invite him to draw you into the community of the Trinity.
4. Wait silently until you feel ready to begin praying.
5. When you are ready, pray in your breathing rhythm.
- Inhale: Lord, Jesus Christ,
- Pause: Son of God,
- Exhale: have mercy on me, a sinner.
6. Use a prayer rope, touching one knot or bead for each repetition. A typical prayer rope is strung with a sequence of one large bead to every ten small ones. The small beads remind one to focus on the prayer. The large one allows for a pause. You may simply touch each of your fingers in succession. Through the first ten repetitions, you might pray aloud, considering the words of the prayer. As distractions arise, gently return your concentration to the words. (Suggestions for dealing with distractions can be found under Lectio Divina/Practice/4.)
7. When you reach the large bead on the prayer rope or your tenth finger, pause. With the first pause you might converse with the Lord about any sin that has risen to your mind. You might tell him about distractions.
8. Begin the next ten when you are ready, praying silently, attending to the flow of air and how it merges with the words. Perhaps on the second pause, a person or situation may come to mind for whom you wish to pray, “have mercy.” Perhaps “on me” will shift to “on us.” Maybe you will appropriate the significance of the words to a particular concern of your own, or the plea for mercy will become a praise for mercy obtained. Take time to share these with God.
9. As you begin the next ten repetitions, listen for the Lord speaking in your heart. Perhaps on the next rest, you will pause to let his words flow.
10. As the prayer repetitions begin to move from your head to your heart, you may feel a desire to still even the echo of the words and to sit quietly with the Lord in peace. When you are ready, you may begin the prayer again or move on to other disciplines of the day.
11. When the silence is gathered and before you move on to the day’s tasks, write down anything that particularly stood out to you during your meditation. It may be that the prayer returns to you throughout the day with this nuance. The next time you practice the breath prayer, perhaps this will function as a starting point in your move to stillness.
12. Exercises other than breathing may also provide a physical rhythm that can fuse with the repetition of the prayer. You may wish to try an uninterrupted walk or bicycle ride in a quiet place, reciting each phrase of your prayer with every step or pedal-pump that you take.
13. Other short petitions in Scripture or some personal breath prayer may be used instead of the Jesus Prayer, for example “Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you” (2 Chr 14:1) or “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on me” (John 1:29). As you regularly practice breath prayer, it will eventually enter into other daily activities like a song you cannot get out of your head. If the repetition becomes annoying or void of meaning, return with intention to the words, retaking them as a prayer for the moment.