I was asked for a prayer to help someone focus himself, to center himself as he faces death from numerous physical failings. And so I gave him five “breath prayers” pulled from the Scriptures.
Here I am.
Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.
When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
Not my will, but your will be done.
Come, Lord Jesus.
The idea of breath prayers comes from an ancient Christian tradition reaching back to the Desert Fathers. It has become associated with what is referred to as the Jesus Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.
With breath prayers, the basic desire is to take 1 Thes. 5:17 seriously, with its call to “pray without ceasing.” And so, the person in prayer uses the basic rhythm of breathing as a means of praying. As you inhale, you mentally say the first half of the prayer; as you exhale, you say the second half.
[Inhale]: When I am afraid …
[Exhale]: I will trust in you.
[Inhale]: Here I am.
[Exhale]: (silent listening)
As these prayers are repeated breath after breath, they stop being conscious repetition and become a posture of openness to God, stilling the soul in the process.
Because of this breath prayers are foundational to what is referred to as hesychasm, which means to keep stillness, silence, rest, quiet.
I listed the Jesus Prayer above, along with five other passages commonly used as breath prayers. The beauty of it this is that almost any passage or phrase can be fashioned into a breath prayer to fit the circumstance you find yourself in. Some people make it a practice of their daily Bible reading to find a phrase which will become their breath prayer for the day.
[Inhale]: Speak, Lord …
[Exhale]: Your servant is listening.