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.
Many of us are already accustomed to repeating prayers together. For example, we may say the Lord’s Prayer in unison every Sunday during worship. Breath prayer takes a little more work, since we all breathe at different rates and meditation can be difficult or awkward if we cannot let go of our awareness of those around us. However, practicing this prayer together offers several benefits. Hearing others calm their breathing and center down may coach us to do the same without having to concentrate so hard. Also, listening to the Holy Spirit as he speaks to and through others around us may help us tune our ears to what he would say to our own hearts.
Choose a breath prayer that appeals to the characteristics or circumstances of your particular group. Say the words of the prayer together a couple of times, just to practice the sounds and the pauses. Designate one person to lead the prayer and make yourselves comfortable around the room. Take a few moments to “listen” to the silence while you calm your breathing. The leader can begin by inviting Jesus to draw you together into the communion of the Trinity and to guide and protect you as you seek him in the stillness.
When all seem ready, pray the first ten rounds out loud together and pause. The leader can then invite people to mention to the Lord any distractions or bits of trivia that have risen to mind during the repetitions. It can be amusing to hear the free associations that others’ minds make. Allow the laughter and when it dies down, wait in silence.
Pray the second ten rounds out loud together and pause. Invite participants to pray sentence prayers of confession concerning any sin that the Lord may have brought to mind. Again, wait in silence.
For the third ten, let the leader pray aloud, while members pray in their breathing rhythms. At the pause, the leader can invite participants to pray the Lord’s mercy on specific people or for specific situations, including themselves. Then keep silence together, listening for him to speak.
During the fourth round of ten, the leader and members can pray silently in their breathing rhythms, allowing the Lord to say what he will. When sufficient silence has been kept, the leader can thank the Lord for his presence and close the season of prayer.
Come back to the circle and share what God has brought to mind as you centered on him. What, if anything, stood out to you in the practice of this prayer? If you simply feel blank, what is the nothing like? As you discuss your individual experiences, do any themes or directions for the group arise? What might the Lord be saying to your community? What further response might you consider?
As your group becomes more comfortable praying this way together, you may wish to apply less structure to the repetitions. As you still yourselves for prayer, one person may begin the prayer, establishing the rhythm, and continuing through fifty repetitions. Others may join in verbally and drop out to pray in their breathing rhythm along the way. After the first fifty, another person may take over the lead, maintaining the oral rhythm while some join in aloud and others drop out.7
7Brother Ramon, A Hidden Fire: Exploring the Deeper Reaches of Prayer (Hants, England: Marshall Pickering, 1987), 118.