Saturday, July 13, 2013

Spiritual Ventilation

"So you should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus."  Romans 6:11

At a course on Community Ventilation on the use of mechanical ventilators at home for patients who are unable to breathe on their own, I was reminded of the aims of artificial ventilation:
  • get oxygen in
  • get carbon dioxide out
  • minimise adverse effects
  • maximize patient comfort. and practice.
This gave me a fresh insight about prayer as spiritual ventilation. Just as we need to breathe in oxygen, we need the prayer of thanksgiving to “breathe in” God's love. Likewise just as we need to breathe out carbon dioxide so we need the prayer of confession to “breathe out” the negative emotions of our souls.

When patients with a chronic lung disease fail to breathe out carbon dioxide adequately they will suffer from drowsiness, confusion and even coma. When we do not “breathe out” our negative attitudes and feelings, we too may also suffer from spiritual confusion and a “spiritual coma” with a sense of separation from God. This is why confession is so important for the health of our souls.

We are all spiritually half dead and in need of spiritual ventilation to revive our souls. The discipline of the breath prayer is to help us cultivate the habit of surrendering control of our lives to God and to live by the Spirit. Just as God breathed life into Adam after forming him from the dust of man, we need to breathe in the Holy Spirit so that our souls will be alive to God.

Prayer is the breath of our souls and without prayer we will be spiritually dead. We need prayer to die to sin and to be alive to God. With prayer, we can reduce the effect of sin and maximize God's peace in our lives. We need to learn to "breathe in" the love of God and to "breathe out" our cares and burdens that blind us to the love and grace of God.

Breath prayer is a contemplative practice that is based on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector where we see the tax collector praying the simple breath prayer, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 10-13). This prayer is a confession of our imperfection and an expression of our need for the grace of God to change. It is a simple and honest affirmation of God's unfailing love and our need for His amazing grace.

I have found simple phrases such as “Jesus is Lord,” “The Lord Provides,” “Peace, be still,” to be helpful at various times of my life. It is recommended that the phrase we choose be authentic to our relationship with God in that very moment that we are breathing.

Breath prayers is a form of meditative prayer that requires us to focus on our breathing. By doing we so, we elicit what has been described by Herbert Benson as the relaxation response. When we attune our breathing with a simple scriptural verse, we are in fact performing a “spiritual ventilation.” For example, as we inhale, we may pray “Jesus”, and as we exhale, we pray, “is Lord.” Or we can pray “The Lord” as we breathe in, and “provides” as we breathe out.”

Such breath prayers are especially helpful in times when we are under stress. It is an exercise by which we can focus on our Lord when we are feeling anxious or fearful. Through breath prayers, we can turn our eyes upon Jesus so that the things of this world will grow strangely dim. It is also an expression of our desire to live the perfect life in Christ:

      Breathe on me Breath of God, so shall I never die;
      But live with Thee the perfect Life of Thine eternity.

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