Breath Prayers for COVID-19

Mar 19, 2020

“Breath of God, fill me.” “Indwelling Spirit, flow through me.” “God of breath and air, cleanse him.” “Loving God, permeate us.” “Holy One, protect us.”  “Ruach, inhabit me.” “Loving Healer, enfold us.” These simple, one-liners are called breath prayers. Since the coronavirus attempts to attack a person’s lungs and their ability to breathe, prayers with references to God as Breath, Life, and Spirit seem particularly poignant and appropriate for now.

Each of the above prayers include two parts: words of praise (or a name for God) and words of petition. In the first prayer, “Breath of God” is the praise part; “fill me” is the petition. Breath prayers are a tool to “pray unceasingly.” (1Thessalonians 5:17) The purpose of the prayer is to name the heart’s desire and to stay in steady communication with God.

Repeating a succinct breath prayer over and over again is my effort to stop obsessing about the “what-ifs” and the” Oh, no’s.” Like gossip, the constant conversation about COVID-19 can be titillating and invigorating, but, for me, it eventually leads to fear and despair. I’m not using the prayer to hide from the reality of the situation or from the wisdom of safe behavior and useful information, but to stay grounded in God. By reciting the words of the prayer, they become as natural and unconscious as my breath. Some people like to say the two parts of the prayer on an inhale and exhale. Since we are so afraid of what we might be exhaling on people today, I love that the exhale in these prayers is showering verbs of blessing and comfort on the world.

Lines from hymns can offer pertinent breath prayers:
“Breathe on me, Breath of God.”       Edwin Hatch (1835-1889)
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.”      Daniel Iverson, (1890-1977)
Since I have tunes to go with these, I can also sing them over and over.

Scripture, of course, is full of breath prayer possibilities.

To get the prayer in your head and consciousness, try praying in color with it. Choose the praise and petition pieces of your prayer. Write the prayer on a piece of paper and doodle around it as you say it over and over again. If the prayer doesn’t seem quite right, tweak it. Change the words and try sitting, doodling, and praying the new words. If you don’t what to doodle or pray in color, pray in black and white. Write the prayer over and over on a piece of graph paper to implant it into your brain. Then weave the prayer into your daily life. Whenever you are tempted to panic, interrupt the panic with your prayer. I’d love to hear what prayers you create.