Skip to content
Oct 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 16, 2016 – Genesis 2:1-8

The Breath of Prayer

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Genesis 2:1-8

Intro: A close look at these verses reveals two scenes with a break between them

The break comes at verse 4, which in the Hebrew text begins:

These are the generations . . .

– this introductory phrase is used repeatedly in Genesis to signal the transition to a new section
• verse 4 is a summary of chapter 1, which properly concludes in verse 3 of chapter 2
• after the story of creation is told, chapter 2 backtracks for a close-up on the creatio of humankind
– we are privileged to witness a divine intimacy between God and Adam
• much more so than Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel
• the spark of life does not pass between their finger tips
◦ rather God’s mouth is near Adam’s and his breath is under Adam’s nose

Two words are used of the work God did during the six day creation
– The Hebrew word asah is translated “made” and bara is translated “created”
• but when it comes to the human, a new word is introduced
yatsar is translated “formed” (sometimes “potter” or sculpt)
◦ again, a creative intimacy unique to the human
– “ground” (or soil) is adahmah and “man” who came from the soil is adahm, Adam or humankind
• with the breath of God, the inanimate and impersonal clay sculpture became a living soul
◦ a “self” or self-conscious person who is given a name
◦ humankind is already seen as one part earth and one part heaven
• but references to God have undergone a similar change from impersonal to personal
◦ in the first chapter, it is always Elohim, who creates this and that
◦ beginning in verse 4 of chapter 2 the shift is to Yahweh Elohim

God too has a a name
and intimacy is now possible,
because these “persons,”
the man and God, can call each other by name

This is our second week of “A Refresher Course In Prayer”

Today we’re going to reflect on the spiritual potential of breath

“Spirit” – Latin, spiritus, which is also “breath”
– the same is true of the Hebrew ruach and Greek pneuma: “air in motion,” wind, breath, spirit
• inspiration and respiration are linked by common roots

Thus says God the LORD, . . .
Who gives breath to the people on [the earth]
And spirit to those who walk in it . . . .
(Isa. 42:5)

◦ inhale, and we receive life from God
◦ exhale, and we temporarily surrender that life back to him
• noticing our breath can help us become aware of God’s Spirit
◦ this isn’t a discovery of something new or unique to us
◦ but the perception of the union between God and all his children

Abbot John Chapman, “Of course the perception leads to a greater degree of union . . . .”

– you see a drop of water on the floor and you dry it with a towel
• but place that same drop under a powerful microscope
◦ and you discover a world you forgot was there
• that is what we do with each prayerful breath
◦ we put those moment under the microscope and discover the kingdom of God

Do you know what is last verse of the last Psalm?

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD! (Ps. 150:6)

– you have to take a breath to speak or sing

A few weeks ago, a woman in our Thursday night group used the term, “cleansing breath”
– I learned about it in the Lamaze method of natural childbirth
• it’s a good reminder to clear out cobwebs, muscular tension and anxiety
• if you prefer, “Take a sanctifying breath
– Brenda Koons recently told me a way to get children to take a cleansing breath
• tell them to smell the flower and blow out the candle
◦ inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth
• only I prefer “blow bubbles,” which requires a long, gentle out breath rather than a blast of air
• extending the out breath increases the calming effect of slow, deep breathing

We have many words and metaphors for breath

We lose our breath, but then catch our breath
– we could say, when God rested, he took a breather
• sometimes we are held in breathless suspense
◦ or experience something that breathtaking
• we need to open a window for a breath of fresh air
◦ we gasp, pant, snort, sniff, sigh, yawn and sneeze
– our breathing is affected by our thoughts and emotions
• but we can also use our breath to affect our thoughts and emotions
◦ we can learn to connect our breath to our physical and mental states
• Jon Kabat-Zinn has written that our bodies know how to breathe
◦ but that’s not always true – jogging, we tend to huff & puff especially running uphill
◦ but athletes train themselves to take long, slow breaths when distance running

St. Paul used this sort of athletic analogy when he said  . . . I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:27)

We pray without ceasing when our breath becomes prayer

We can use our breath to wake ourselves up
– breathing can be a door to prayerfulness
• notice your breath and let it bring you back to the experience of the present moment
• we hear, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (Jas. 4:8)
◦ we say, “Alright, I’m going to do that”
◦ okay, but WHEN? Later? An hour from now? A day? A week? The only time we have to do this is now
– breathing can be the moving sidewalk we ride back to the present moment
• sometimes as I begin my prayer time, I’ll breathe deep and say, “Now”
◦ Jesus is near to me now; all he promised is here now; all I desire from God is now
◦ I’m the hold out and the hold up

Jon Kabat-Zinn observes that, “Using the breath to bring us back to the present moment takes no time at all, only a shift in attention.”

• the more attention we give to breath as prayer,
◦ the more effectively it will wake us up
◦ and the more easily we will be able to return to prayer anywhere, any time

We can program our own Pavolvian response

What is the “automatic response”–the mental habit–we wish to form? Simply this, that when we focus attention on our breath, it is not only to calm ourselves down, adjust our attitude or return to the present moment. We use our breath as a trigger so that we associate coming back to the present with a return to awareness of God’s presence. We want to connect drawing a breath with drawing near to God. Like the Prodigal son, when we come to our senses, we know it is time to return to the Father (Lk. 15:17-20, New American Standard Bible). Then, recovering a prayerful awareness can begin as soon as our next breath.

– we can take a deep breath to wake ourselves up to God’s presence here, now
• then, we can continue to follow our breath to keep our souls in prayerful awareness as one moment passes into the next
– starting out it may help to silently say a word as you inhale and another as you exhale
• some of the word pairs that I have found useful include the following:

Slowly inhale and say, “Here” — slowly exhale and say, “Now”
Slowly inhale and say, “Be still” — slowly exhale and say, “Let go”
Slowly inhale and say, “I” — slowly exhale and say, “You”
Slowly inhale and say, “Holy” — slowly exhale and say, “Spirit”

Our breath is always here and it is always now
– even as God, who gives to all people life and breath and all things, is always here, for in Him we live and move and exist (Acts 17:25, 28)
• right now, where you are and as you read these words, you can breathe yourself awake to God
• we can practice all them time and even use annoying situations as triggers
◦ a waiting room, a traffic jam, standing in long lines
– when you breath, feel the intake of air that fills your lungs and again as it flows out
• feel it as a gift, given directly by God — the gift of life and spirit

If He should determine to do so,
If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath,
All flesh would perish together,
And man [adahm] would return to dust. (Job 34:14-15)

You will find that as you feel your breath, other sensations will enter awareness
– your senses will be sharpened
• you will be more conscious of how sensations are connected to thoughts and thoughts to feelings
• and you will begin to feel the important emotions more deeply
◦ as one woman reported to Susan Smalley and Diana Winston, “I walk through life with a little more awe and sense of wonder.” (Fully Present)

Conc: When we silence our hearts and minds in God’s presence

We are not trying to create a vacuum
– rather, we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)
• we want to be open instead of closed off
◦ most of us cannot sustain that openness for very long
◦ after a few seconds, we fill our the open space with thoughts, emotions, and that chatty inner voice
• it is useful to have a spiritual line to grab hold of
◦ so when our thoughts drift, we can quickly return to our place at Jesus’ feet
◦ but return quietly and without judgment — we don’t want to awaken the sleeping dragon

Prayerful breathing prayef will not always be exciting or enlightening.
Even if we ask to see where grace is moving in our present situation, we won’t always see it.
But at least we will have done our part when we have paused to look for it.
We have done the seeking in Jesus’ instructions to ask, seek, and knock

One Comment

Leave a comment
  1. Ingrid / Nov 3 2016

    You, yes you, were born with natural tendency to focus on love. Your imagination was creative and expansive. You were connected to a world of enchantment. A world much richer than one you’re connected to now. Life, love, creator, source wants to breathe through you as powerfully and passionately as it breathes through a thunderstorm. It wants to breathe through you as whimsically as it flutters the wings of a butterfly and as bright as the fire in the eyes of a curious child’s. When you return to your senses you know you are more than your circumstances. You see you are more than meets the eye. Your heart opens to being one of a kind wonderful, a spiritual giant. You remember that you are made in the image and likeness of God and that your spiritual identity is one with the great I am presence. That life, that breath, is what you are. Breathe deep, exhale slowly and grab hold of your worth. Then, work it.

Leave a comment