Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 27, 2011

Breathing In God, Breathing Out What Is Not

Salvador Dali's rising Christ, at the main Vatican Museum gallery of modern art.

The prayer immediately below is compliments of Christine Sine, at the New Monasticism and communitarian Christianity organization Mustard Seed Associates , headquartered in the Seattle area.

Then the book/article excerpt below her prayer is from –of all places! — The Huffington Post. Coincidentally, I happened to catch Chumley’s documentary about the Jesus Prayer on public television the other day, and enjoyed it.

Lastly, I offer my own comments about Centering Prayer as a small addition below the Chumley quote. I can’t claim to be “good” at this kind of focused –or divinely unfocused?–  mind/body prayer yet (which is very akin to Buddhist meditation principles), but it has certainly been helpful to learn more about myself and God by trying it out. That’s why they call it “practice”, I suppose.

Breathe on me breath of God

May your living presence guide me

Breathe in me breath of God

May love of neighbour fill me

Breathe through me breath of God

May we live by your kingdom ways


*  *  *

‎”One of the traditions that took root on Mount Athos was introduced by St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), a monk of Vatopedi who developed a method of reciting the Jesus Prayer that is linked to breathing. Father Ruwais and Father Lazarus first taught us this at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt. **As the monk inhales, he prays, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,” then pauses a moment, holding his breath, before exhaling and praying, “have mercy on me, a sinner.” ** St. Palamas explains, “In this way, [the monk] will also be able to control the mind together with the breath.”

–from Norris J. Chumley, author of “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”, which has a corresponding documentary as well, currently making the rounds on PBS. I saw it on Channel 20, Chicago… so it may not be getting the airplay that the much bigger WTTW/Ch. 11 material does, but that doesn’t make it second-rate in my book.

— The Jesus Prayer With Breath Attentiveness method discussed above reminds me also of Sacred Word style prayer, or Centering Prayer, as practiced and taught increasingly by Roman Catholics and others interested in the New Monastic movement. This technique is also a key element of Divine Therapy, a method of “communion”, openness to the Holy Spirit, and removal of distraction/deep-seated pain, as taught by Fr. Thomas Keating. His work is even making great headway in the addiction and recovery movement.

— Lastly, because I am as always a pop-culture nut, all this talk about God and breathing always makes me think of a sort of cool song from folk-rock musician Bruce Cockburn, called “Let the Bad Air Out”  [click title for lyrics]. It’s a bit more political than personal, but the connection is clear enough:

The song even features a shout-out to poet-philosopher and personal fave Wendell Berry, which I only just today discovered, despite multiple past listenings! Check it out:

Too much monkey business, like Mr. Berry said
Drugs and oil and money, there’ll be nothing when you’re dead
At the risk of being subversive, nothing left to do but shout

Open up the window, let the bad air out

Indeed. Everybody. Even a “shout” is a form of breathing out the bad. So stop the monkey business, and maybe then we can relax and breathe and pray again. We seem to have forgotten what all those great monks taught us over a thousand years ago.

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