prayer

With the Mind in the Heart

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
— Viktor Frankl

This week has been about holding space for myself, and helping others do the same.

The space between activation and response is less about right, wrong, or forward than about softening, breathing, and being.

For a while I have been incorporating breath prayer into my life: breathe in, "Lord," breathe out, "have mercy."

At first the phrase, "Lord, have mercy" did not resonate with me. The classic breath prayer of centuries of the faithful did not seem personal enough for me. (I do have a penchant toward wanting be original.) But lacking anything better, I just began to pray.

In through my nose, out through my mouth.

Lord,

have mercy.

After months, the words mean more than I could have imagined, more than they could have meant without the physical alignment of breath and space and the cumulative moments of my stress and God's nearness. Even as a novice in the discipline of breath prayer, I am being strengthened in my inner being. (Ephesians 3:16)

I'm coming home to my breath. I'm coming home to God.

I marvel at the beauty that God created man to need breath. As a doctor shared with me this week, a human's most essential need is oxygen. We can live for a time without water or food, but not without breath. From breath we were created (Genesis 2:7), and the end of breath is death.

I remember wondering long ago how Scripture's teaching to "pray without ceasing" was attainable. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, ESV) It felt like an impossibility, an existence only accessible to truly holy souls on a plane of spirituality much higher than my own. 

But what if breath is prayer?

What if the very resource the body needs most to regulate life is the same resource that can connect our souls to God?

I pray as I breathe, drawing from the resource of my union with Jesus. In moments of anxiety, "Lord, have mercy." When sobered by the despair of a client, "Lord, have mercy." In the tiny spaces of inactivity, when I could look at my phone to fill the empty, I am beginning instead to reconnect to my breath, "Lord, have mercy." 

God's immanence and transcendence meet in the hum of respiration. Mind and heart find their union in the flow of the body's most essential function. I become me when I breathe.

At any moment in the day I can reconnect to my breath, and in so doing, reconnect to the fact of my secure union with Jesus Christ. Even when subconscious, my breath is prayer. I pray without ceasing, because I am.

And as I attune to the expansion and contraction of lung and chest, I receive the opportunity to expand from a constricted way of living. Breath allows me to offer my truest self to the world. As I receive the living presence of God, I can extend my grounded presence to others.

What if there is more space in your life for freedom and growth than you imagined? What if the space between stimulus and response is breath? 

The heart of the matter is: Stand with reverence before God,
with the mind in the heart, and strive toward Him with longing.
— St. Theophan

For one simple primer on beginning the spiritual discipline of breath prayer, click here.

Perseverance?

The unassumed is the unhealed
— Gregory of Nazianzus

Hebrews 12 tells us to lay aside every weight, every sin, and run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. He endured his suffering on the cross because of the joy of the future, knowing his death was creating new life, a new way, a union by which you and I can mysteriously persevere in the continuing, but temporary, darkness of this world. 

PersevereWhat a difficult word. I kind of get tired (...and maybe a tiny bit frustrated) just hearing it! Maybe on my most inspired, holy days I find joy and courage in hearing it. But when I've been battling nausea and fatigue and hard decisions and fear for weeks... It mostly just sounds trite.

Fantastically for our struggling hearts there is more to the reality of perseverance than what we feel on any given day.  Douglas Farrow writes that by his incarnation “God has drawn so near to man and drawn man so near to himself in Jesus that they are perfectly at one." In Jesus' incarnation there is a double movement of grace:

1) Descent--God draws near to man and

2) Ascent--in so doing man is drawn near to God.

This double movement accomplishes a union in which you and I are intimately, inextricably connected to Christ's perfect suffering and victory over sin and death.

What does this mean? The God of the universe took on a human body--he truly experienced life in a broken body like you and I do--and felt the pangs of both a horrifying death and the emotional angst of betrayal and separation from God. In the incarnation Christ penetrated human existence and stands in solidarity with condemned, frail, and broken humankind. Because of this, “Christ’s humanity means that God’s love is now flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, really one of us and with us." (Christian Kettler) So first, take comfort in the fact that your Lord personally knows the pain of human bodily suffering. While it sometimes feels like we're suffering alone, the truth is we suffer in the company of the God who suffered. Dwell on that fact. Sit with it. Let it become as true in your heart as it is in the Word. 

Friends, the secret of our ability to persevere is that we are united to Christ. Christ's perfect response to suffering--his submission to endure the cross for the joy that was set before him, his obediance to the Father, his tears of blood and even agony, his willingness to be despised, publicly shamed, isolated from and misunderstood by those who were closest to him--Christ's perfect response to suffering is in reality ours.

In union with Christ’s humanity, our faith is intimately grounded in and animated by Christ’s faith. Our faith is forever rooted in Christ's faith. Consequently, "the covenant faithfulness of God surrounds and upholds the faltering response of his people.” (T. F. Torrance) Do you get what this means? God himself in Christ enables you and I to persevere in suffering. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will keep raising us to hope, to endure, to believe, and in the end, to be completely made well. 

So, believer, dwell on the fact that your life is a participation in Christ's life. Our feeble efforts, sleepy prayers, and even cries of frustration are lived in connection to Christ’s perfect offering of faithfulness to the Father. He prays with us and for us, standing before the Father in our stead.

So, I'm tired of being sick. I'm tired of having to teach myself to persevere. It's old and frustrating. But even my frustration is a prayer. And I know I can keep standing and running this race because I'm united to Christ. He will enable me to persevere, and he will do the same for you.

So, perseverance? It's happening. God is doing it in you and in me. Keep standing. Look forward and up--Jesus did this before we did, and he will keep lifting us up before the Father until the day he returns and makes all that is broken right. 


References

Douglas Farrow, “T. F. Torrance and the Latin Heresy.” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion & Public Life no. 238 (December 2013), 27. 

Christian D. Kettler, The God Who Rejoices: Joy, Despair, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010), 142.

Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 92.