To breathe is to live. And yet, how often do we actually think about our breathing? Unless we’ve been sick with pneumonia, or have climbed to a high elevation, breathing in and out is something we all take for granted. All day, everyday, we take about 26,000 breaths. It happens naturally without our having to really do anything to make it happen. Yet without it, we cannot live.
A few weeks ago I was in the hospital room when my son took in his first breath. Like the rush of a mighty wind, he filled his lungs for the very first time, his skin began to change color, and the remarkable rhythm of his breathing began. I held my breath waiting for him to breathe knowing full and well how necessary it is for life. And yet, during the last 6 weeks, I have grown accustomed to his breath, and am no longer bending over to place my ear near his mouth in the middle of the night.
We all know that we cannot live without breath. Just ask anyone who has been with someone at the moment of death and they will tell you about the profound change that occurs when someone’s breathing comes to a conclusion. But in addition to breath being a necessity for life, it is also a necessity for prayer.
Every breath is a prayer. As the psalmist cries out, “Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing.” When we sigh, when we breathe, when we fill our lungs with air, we are participating in the great and cosmic birth of creation over and over again. In the beginning of scripture we learn about God breathing life into the first human and for every one of us that has ever lived since, we have received that same gift at the beginning of our lives.
If we are in a time in our lives when we do not know what to pray, if we are at a loss for words, there is comfort in knowing that every breath is a prayer. To breathe is to remember the paradox of our existence; we’ve been created in the image of God with immense beauty, power, and strength while at the same time our lives are incredibly vulnerable and fragile. Our lives hinge on our breath.
So too, our spiritual lives hinge on our breathing in and out, over and over again, remembering that every breath is a gift from God.