BY AMY WALTON |
“Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew…”
So begins this 1878 hymn by Edwin Hatch. I frequently sang that hymn in youth choir growing up in Mayodan Moravian Church, and it remains a favorite. I recently read (sang, actually!) one of its verses on January 21 in my Moravian Daily Texts Journal. It was a perfect reminder for me of the importance of breath and especially, the breath of God.
I’ve thought a lot about breathing over the past year or so. We continue to live in a pandemic that’s left millions of people fighting for breath and that has caused others to take their last. In the midst of this global health crisis, I earned my yoga teaching certification and learned more about the importance of breath, along with many different breathing techniques.
Breathing. It’s something we’ve been doing since we came into this world; but oh, how we take it for granted.
The average person takes around 20,000 breaths a day. We sigh. We hold our breath. We gasp. We blow bubbles and dandelions. We blow up balloons and blow out candles.
And we just breathe.
Yes, we take our first inhale after we emerge from our mothers’ wombs; and at some point, we exhale for the last time, passing over into the more immediate presence of our Lord. Five years ago, I sat by my father’s side as he took in his last wisp of oxygen after several months of struggling to breathe through pneumonia. It was a sad yet beautiful moment for me.
Breath is mentioned many times in scripture. We first see ruach—Spirit, wind, breath—in the second verse of Genesis, where we read that God’s Spirit hovered over the waters of the formless earth. In the second chapter of the book, we find God blowing life into Adam. The Message translation says that God “blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” Many refer to this as the “Creator breath.” We came to life when God breathed into us!
At different points in our lives, even from day to day, our “dry bones” seem to run out of energy on all levels: Physical, mental, spiritual. But reading through the very breath-laden 37th chapter of Ezekiel is enough to re-invigorate us.
The prophet was in the valley of the dry bones, plain old bones without tendons or flesh or breath. God commanded Ezekiel to tell the bones that He would make breath enter them and then they would come to life… and they did.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke writes that God “gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25, NIV).
God breathed His Holy Spirit into us, the One who moves us to love and to serve. That same Spirit descended on the disciples in the upper room and later, on the small band of brothers and sisters in Herrnhut as they prayed around the clock in August of 1727. The Spirit breath moved within and among the Brethren in what we now know as the Moravian Pentecost, the event that gave birth to our church.
Creator breath. Spirit breath. God’s breath.
I’ve recently begun offering monthly breath work and lectio divina meditations via Zoom. Before we meditate on God’s Word, I guide the participants through a breathing exercise, where we inhale God’s presence and exhale our distractions or inhale love and exhale hatred.
We do this through a breathing technique known as ujjayi or victorious breath, where we slowly inhale and exhale through our noses, constricting the back of the throat on each exhale. It’s calming, and it really helps one slow down and be fully present to hear the scripture reading several times. The feedback from students has been quite warm, with comments such as “I’ve never focused so much on my breath” and “I could feel God’s presence in a powerful way.”
Another beautiful way of focusing on God and breath is breath prayer, an ancient form of prayer that is short and easily repeated. You can recite a familiar prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer:
Inhale: “Our Father,”
Exhale: “Who art in heaven,”
Inhale: “Hallowed be thy name.”
Exhale: “Thy kingdom come…”
You can also create your own breath prayer:
Inhale: “Holy God”
Exhale: “Give me strength.”
Inhale: “Heavenly Father”
Exhale: “Help me love.”
Inhale: “Prince of Peace”
Exhale: “Give me peace.”
Inhale: “Bread of Life”
Exhale: “Feed me.”
Breath, beautiful and precious breath, is a gift from God in many forms.
As we continue living in this pandemic and in a world that needs more Spirit breath, may we all make time daily to sit with the Lord and breathe, and may we breathe into others the love and compassion He gives us.
A closing breath prayer:
Inhale: “Breathe on me, breath of God,”
Exhale: “Fill me with life anew,”
Inhale: “That I may love what Thou dost love,”
Exhale: “And do what Thou wouldst do.”
About the author
Amy Walton is a certified life coach, certified Christian life coach, speaker, and writer who has lived in coastal Virginia for nearly 30 years. A native of Mayodan, North Carolina, she was baptized, confirmed, and raised in Mayodan Moravian Church, where she remains an Associate Member. Connect with her at www.amy-walton.com or