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.