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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