Prayer Is to the Spirit as Water Is to the Body
In the church lost-and-found I came across a lovely little book: The Breath of Life: A Simple Way to Pray, by Ron DelBene. The author describes an ancient practice called “the breath prayer” and explains how to use it.
You know how you sometimes hear a song or a jingle (often an annoying one) and you just can’t get it out of your head? That’s kind of how the breath prayer works, except that it’s not “annoying,” because it’s one you devise yourself, based on your deepest need.
The breath prayer is a short, simple petition to God that works its way through your mind and heart to the core of your being. The author emphasizes that everyone must develop his or her own breath prayer. He gives examples, such as, “O God, let me feel your love.” He suggests ways to remember to say it, because reminders are necessary at first. He says that it is not a mantra, at least not in the way people often tend to think of mantras—but it really is a mantra, in the purest sense: sacred words that “protect the mind” (the literal translation of mantra).
From what does the mind need protection? Fear, a sense of isolation, irritability, anxiety, depression, cynicism, aimlessness, guilt, impatience—all manner of mischief, really.
Father DelBene, an Episcopal priest, recommends adopting a short, rhythmic prayer, six or eight syllables, that you can repeat while walking or doing other sorts of exercise, while waiting in traffic or standing in line at the market. I like to say it silently, synchronized with my breathing, when I’m falling asleep. It’s a lot better than the flotsam and jetsam that often bump around in your mind when you get into bed and turn off the light—the stuff you didn’t get done today, the stuff you need to do tomorrow….
Someone has said, “Prayer is to the spirit as water is to the body.” Drink up!