Friday, March 09, 2012

Prayer as Breath

Prayer as Breath


Breathing is the process that moves air in and out of the lungs of many vertebrates. Air breathing organisms -- such as reptiles, birds and mammals -- require oxygen to release energy via respiration, in the form of the metabolism of energy-rich molecules such as glucose.  Breathing is the only one process that delivers oxygen to where it is needed in the body and removes carbon dioxide.  This leads to another important process which involves the movement of blood by the circulatory system. Simply put, gas exchange - oxygen for carbon dioxide - occurs deep in the lung.  Once the gases are in the blood, the heart powers their flow around the body (via the circulatory system).


Air flows in and out of the body, through inhaling (breathing in) and exhaling (breathing out).  For this the lungs contracts and expands with the help of muscles – such as the diaphragm.  Each contraction and expansion cycle happens when the muscles contract and relax.  The expanded lung has more volume, letting air in and the contracted lung has less volume forcing air out. 


Breathing is one of the few bodily functions which, within limits, can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously. Conscious control of breathing is common in many forms of activities such as: swimming, cardio fitness, speech or vocal training.  In these activities one learns to discipline one's breathing, initially consciously but later sub-consciously, for purposes other than life support.  (Human speech is also dependent on conscious breath control.)  Unconsciously, breathing is controlled by specialized centers in the brainstem, which automatically regulate the rate and depth of breathing depending on the body's needs at any time. Our body counts with a sophisticated electro-chemical system that controls our involuntary breathing cycle.  This system will adapt our breathing to what our body requires.  For example, when we are exercising it will cause a higher rate of breathing, and when at rest a slower one.


It should come as no surprise then that if we cannot breathe our bodies will be affected.  Depending on how severe the problem, it can be lethal.  For example, sleep apnea and snoring are breathing impediments that affect adversely your sleep, brain and body metabolism.  These in turn can cause other complications, when awake, that can be harmful and even lethal.  So, breathing well - not only breathing - is essential.


Ellen G. White says that "Prayer is the breath of the soul. It is the secret of spiritual power. No other means of grace can be substituted, and the health of the soul be preserved. Prayer brings the heart into immediate contact with the Well-spring of life, and strengthens the sinew and muscle of the religious experience. Neglect the exercise of prayer, or engage in prayer spasmodically, now and then, as seems convenient, and you lose your hold on God. The spiritual faculties lose their vitality; the religious experience lacks health and vigor" {GW 254.4}. 


It is no wonder that the Bible puts so much emphasis on prayer.  If we can draw parallels between breathing and praying, with prayer we let the Divine in and Sin out.  Selfless love comes in and selfishness goes out.  As we inhale the Divine, it in turn fills our heart, which in turn pumps it through our whole being.  We are thus spiritually invigorated. 


We could also draw parallels with the breathing effectiveness.  Just like not breathing well will affect our body adversely, not praying well will affect us spiritually.  "The effective prayer of the righteous avails much" (James 5:16). This means ineffective prayer does not avail much.  Living unrighteous lives, believing wrong things about God, among other things, nullifies the power of prayer.  In fact, these can cause or be caused by neglecting prayer.  Ellen White says of neglecting prayer,


"The darkness of the evil one encloses those who neglect to pray. The whispered temptations of the enemy entice them to sin; and it is all because they do not make use of the privileges that God has given them in the divine appointment of prayer… Without unceasing prayer and diligent watching we are in danger of growing careless and of deviating from the right path. The adversary seeks continually to obstruct the way to the mercy seat, that we may not by earnest supplication and faith obtain grace and power to resist temptation" {SC 94.2}.


The fact that we are enjoined to pray without ceasing tells us that this kind of prayer should be unconscious or second nature.  Just like we breathe involuntarily, it would be nice to reach a point where we just pray, involuntarily.  Yes, we would have our moments when we choose to pray (as controlled breathing), but for the most part, we would be so in tune with God, that we never stop communicating with Him.  Our Hevanl;y Father would be thrilled.  This is something the Father would want from us,


Our heavenly Father waits to bestow upon us the fullness of His blessing. It is our privilege to drink largely at the fountain of boundless love. What a wonder it is that we pray so little! God is ready and willing to hear the sincere prayer of the humblest of His children, and yet there is much manifest reluctance on our part to make known our wants to God… God's heart of infinite love yearns toward them, ready to give them more than they can ask or think, and yet they pray so little and have so little faith?... Why should the sons and daughters of God be reluctant to pray, when prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven's storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence? {SC 94.2}


We have not because we ask not.  He is waiting to hear from us.  

Raul Diaz