Breath Prayer, Incorporating the Words of Institution

During this time of Lent, several people have expressed to me the notion of incorporating a ‘spiritual exercise’ into their daily routine. So, I wanted to share a simple routine I am trying to incorporate into my daily life, that seems appropriate for Lent.

In the Gospel of Matthew, there are stories of Jesus feeding people. Two are feeding the ‘crowds’ (Chap 14 and 15) and the feeding of the ‘Last Supper,’ or the first communion. (Chap 26). These meals are linked by Matthew (Jesus feeding people is linked to his sharing of communion) by using the exact same verb sequence: Take, Bless (Give Thanks), Break and Give. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it… in all three stories. (This sequence was first pointed out to me in a Henri Nouwen book).

On Thursday evenings, we have been studying meditation/contemplative prayer traditions and the modern neurological evidence that such spiritual practices have a positive effect on the brain. Study after study has shown that simple breathing meditations can bring calm, reduce stress, and actually help our brains move into more positive patterns of thought.

So, I combined the words of ‘institution’ with a simple mindful breathing practice. I focus on each verb as part of my breathing cycle.

TAKE: As I inhale, I take air and oxygen into my body. I concentrate on the feeling of the breath coming through my nostrils, my diaphragm moving downward, and my stomach and chest expanding. I do this slowly (5 seconds).

BLESS (GIVE THANKS) : I hold my breath for 3-5 seconds, concentrating on the gift of breath and life. This gentle holding of the breath with thankfulness, truly cultivates blessing. I feel the expansiveness of lungs, the feeling of fullness in my body and the gentle internal pressure.

BREAK: I feel my muscle in my trachea, release and break the hold of the breath allowing it to escape gently. Sometimes I allow it slip gently through my nostrils, other times I let it flow over my lips. I concentrate on the feelings and the need to break and release.

GIVE: As the air leaves my body, I’m mindful of how I am giving air back into the ‘world.’ I slowly release the breath taking 4 or 5 seconds to do so. When all the air feels exhausted out of my system, I consciously think of giving more and push my diaphragm gently, releasing the remaining air.

Taking moments (10 to 20 minutes) of each day during Lent to practice this simple exercise, I am hoping it will cultivate a greater sense of calm and appreciation in my life. By incorporating the “Words of Institution” perhaps the Lenten celebration of Maundy Thursday will take on deeper significance. Hopefully the pattern will move beyond my ‘breath’ as I learn to take the things of God, give thanks for them, releasing them back as a gift to the world.

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View from Stough Cyn

View from my hike last night above Burbank. Stough Cyn.

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Ask Me – poem

Below is a poem I read in the book, Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. The poem didn’t really stir me until this week, standing on the banks of a small frozen river, giving way to the first signs of Spring. As much as people try to help and give advice to help us transform our lives, perhaps it is best to realize the current beneath life. Though hidden for a season, it is flowing in our heart’s essence through God’s creative compassion. Enjoy the poem and my picture. Reflect, and share your thoughts if moved to do so.

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

William Stafford

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Introduction to Clearness Committee Concept

You may be curious as to the type of activities I experience on retreat.
The retreat I attended this week (and in November) are based on the Quaker tradition of the Clearness Committee and the work of Parker Palmer.
For an introduction to this concept and this type of work you can find several YouTube videos that provide a brief introduction. I provide a link below. This is the type of process that I feel called to help develop as a pastor within the church. I have benefitted from it in my own life, particularly in the recent retreats I have attended. For more information on Parker Palmer and Courage to Lead visit the website:

YouTube introduction video to Clearness Committee

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Finding our True Self – Courage to Lead Retreat

“…asking how to realize the true self is much like facing a large field covered with snow that has not yet been walked on and asking, ‘Where is the path?’ The answer is to walk across it and there will be a path. One cannot find out first how to realize the true self and then set out to reach the clearly visualized goal. Rather, one must walk on in faith and as one goes on, the goal appears – not before, nor within, nor beyond us, but it does appear… It appears not in a revelation of a fact but a transformation of our hearts, in which, without knowing how, God transforms us into himself and we begin to realize obscurely yet deeply that our lives are hidden with Christ in God.
James Finley in Merton’s Palace of Nowhere.

On the second day of the retreat, I took some time to go snowshoeing. This was a brand new experience for me. The snow lay before me, untouched, bright, glistening and smooth. A blank canvas formed in purity and inviting me to the begin my adventure. But which way was I to go? There were no markers, trails, or footsteps to follow, only the pristine surface reflecting the sun’s rays. As I began my walk I felt the free creativity of making my own path, as well as the anxiety of this freedom, “Am I going the right way.” After a short way into the adventure, I turned and looked at the path I had made in the snow. I felt compelled to snap a picture of the prints I had made – of the path I had created. (see above)
Later in the day, I spent time reflecting on my journey through ministry, tracing some of the footprints of my past experiences. After reading, reflecting and journaling, I was asked a series of honest and open questions about my life’s journey by fellow pastors. I couldn’t believe the depth of emotion, insight, and peace I felt, answering these questions. The questions weren’t leading, or directive. They weren’t asked to gain information or appease anyone else’s curiosity. They weren’t designed to lead me to any particular place or conclusion. These open and honest questions helped me to see the path I had created with my life and to listen to the unique voice of my own soul. Some events of my past hold a special weight of integrity that resonate with my soul. When I feel and hold these moments once again, they give insight and nourishment for the true-self that is deep within me.
At the end of the day, I opened a book on my iPad that I hadn’t opened in six months or more. I felt compelled to read a chapter I had yet to encounter and found the quote which began this blog (serendipity). It brought together the days events.
There is no clear cut path to finding your true-self. No one can give you the answer, the goal, the model, the secret, the path… you must walk on the pristine canvas of life that is laid before you. Listen to your soul, hear its words and the feel the weight of its integrity.

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Location:Lincoln, MT

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Day #1

I arrived safely in Helena MT. Warren dropped me off at the Burbank Airport. We reminisced about when he and Rachel began coming to the church and talked about Drew, Mande, Trevor, Smallwood, who have left recently, and the network of ‘young adults’ who have connected with one another and became community to each other for the past 5-6 years. I knew the transitions were coming, but now I’m feeling them. I realize how much ‘being church’ is always a process, a journey, and never a destination. I had a brief lay over in Salt Lake City and landed in Helena in the early afternoon. Flying into these cities, over snow capped mountains, frozen prairies, was a meditative experience, but not as strong as flying over Burbank on this clear day. Seeing my city from this different perspective, made me think about the 100,000 plus people who live in our town and our church’s role in this community. The higher elevation allowed me to see the entire city at once, the houses, condos, schools, sports fields, the freeway arteries and side street capillaries carrying people on their morning journey.

Perhaps the morning conversation with Warren was like this perspective from the plane. An overview, to see the big picture, to see the web of relationships and how people have moved from strangers to friends, and then saying goodbye to some. Perhaps my sabbatical will help me reach a higher elevation, to see my ministry and pastoral role from a higher elevation. To see some of the ebbs and flows.

While on the planes, I read an entire book, “Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life,” by Tom Holmes. I read it to prepare for an upcoming series on prayer and meditation that I desire to lead with the young adult Thursday evening group and eventually others. The book forced me to reflect on the ‘big picture’ of my own inner life. Just as I saw the ‘web’ of relations in our church, and of our connected city, so I began to see the web of relationships that are internal to me. I believe each individual has a whole cast of characters within them – these are the “parts” of Parts Work. I can clearly identify certain ‘parts’ or ‘characters’ within me (helper, perfectionist, completive game player, childlike spirit, debater, father, etc…) Some parts are in conflict with each other. Some take center stage when I’m pastoring. Some parts of me have been ignored and I haven’t been mindful of them. I feel that grasping a sense of my inner parts and the web of relationships that are internal to me is central to developing my spiritual life. It sounds paradoxical, but I need the ‘big picture” of what is most interior to me, my own complex self.

Well, I’m only a few hours into my sabbatical and already my mind and soul are activated. I thought it was just going to be a travel day.

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Walking around Helena, MT. It’s freezing. I’m staying a fellow pastor’s house and tomorrow we head to the Courage to Lead retreat – at a Disciples of Christ camp. It will be rustic, cold, and snowy. But, I look forward to a great time.

In the picture you can see the dome of the Capital building.
Sorry its so small, no zoom lens.

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Location:Helena MT

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