Saturday, November 17, 2018

Breathing As Prayer: Now is the Time

Prayer is very personal. What works for one person—prayers from memory, reading Scripture, song or the Rosary might not work for another. This is both the beauty and the challenge of prayer. Prayer can be communal or individual, it can be verbal or physical. Your preferred style of prayer will most likely reflect your personality, and it should! Prayer is, after all "lifting our hearts and minds to God" or if you want to just cut to the chase: communication with The Divine.
Athletes intuitively know the value of breath. Today, we appreciate that more than ever
In my book Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes, I sought to include much more than a long list of prayers. My goal was to include prayers that will resonate with different coaches and athletes. Typically, the collective personality of a basketball team is different than that of the rowing crew. Girls' tennis might respond to one type of prayer and boys' water polo in another. How does a coach know how to pray? Some of it might be trial and error. However, we know ourselves and over time, we know our athletes. Use what feels comfortable for you as this will help those you lead feel comfortable too. You will gain a sense of what "works" and what doesn't. 

The process of elimination is another way to figure out what to use and when. For example, 
one style of prayer that I did not naturally take to is "Breathing as Prayer." An active runner for years, this type of prayer should not have been a stretch for me. I love the tradition and idea behind it, but I cannot honestly say this would do this on my own or lead my team through it regularly....until now.
As many people know the fires in Northern California (Paradise and Butte County) are considered the most devastating wildfire in the state's history. According to CBS New "the death toll from the "Camp Fire" in Northern California has increased to 71 while authorities try to locate 1,011 people who are unaccounted for. The blaze is now 55 percent contained after consuming more than 148,000 acres." Homes and habitats are gone. Here in San Francisco, over 180 miles away, the air quality has been so hazardous that schools and government agencies have closed. People are advised to stay indoors. Public transportation is free. Those who venture outside are wearing face masks. Never before I have appreciated the air we breathe more than today...than right now.

The very air we breath is a gift. I have always known that is true. I don't think I have taken that fact for granted and yet, I cannot help but be reminded of this truth as I look outside my window, as I make choices for how I can exercise—indoors, and as I think of the first responders and their health/well-being. This prayer is an important one to pray; it is a natural one to offer. 
We live in hope that the fire will be contained. We pray that those affected can and will rebuild their lives and find support in ways they never thought possible. We extend gratitude to those working tirelessly to meet the many needs resulting from the devastation. And when we can, let us use our breath—to pray,  Here's how. 

This is the second example among 30 ways to pray with and for your athletes. If you would like to order a copy of the book, please contact me.

Breathing as Prayer

“O breathe on me, thou breath of God.
Fill me with life anew; that I may love what you would love.
And do what you would do.” —Edwin Hatch 

When asked how he prayed, the Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton said, “I breathe.” He probably meant that prayer should be and could be as simple and natural as breathing—or talking to a friend. Each breath we take is a gift from God. Without breath, we wouldn’t live. We know this is true in a literal sense. I believe it’s true in a figurative one as well. Prayer gives meaning to our life, because it draws us into relationship with God. 

The root of the word for spirituality is spiritus, which means “breath.” When God breathed into Adam, he came to life. Adam’s spirit was born. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the risen Christ breathed on the disciples. It was an important gesture; Jesus wanted them to know that His Holy Spirit would always be with them….and us! Indeed, the Spirit abides.

Paying attention to our breath might not be a common exercise for most people. It is, however, a regular component of athletic training in many sports. For example, swimming and running all require disciplined breathing. If breathing exercises are something an athletes already practices, or would like practice, why not allow for these exercises to serve an opportunity for prayer too? 

Breathing exercises as prayer can be a wonderful symbiosis of a physical and spiritual exercise.

Keys to Success
  1. Find a quiet place to sit. 
    • This will depend on your sport: It might be in the end zone or on the pool deck. For rowers, it might be on the dock. 
    • It’s important to invite athletes to pray in the middle of where they spend their time…not apart from it.
  2. Close your eyes and take ten deep breaths.
    • It’s helpful for students to have a sense of how long they will be engaged in the exercise. 
  3. Focus on your breathing, expanding your stomach when you breathe in.
  4. Each time you exhale, thank God for a blessing in your life.
    • a good day, your family, the ability to compete, a healthy body, nourishing food, teammates who have become friends, those who have taught you how to play your sport.
  5. When you are done, sit for a while longer and just enjoy the silence before heading back to your day, practice, etc. 
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