I woke up this morning with a sense of deep contentment after our time together last night. A phrase kept coming to mind, “speak to one another with psalms and hymns.” I thought I remembered this might be from the Scriptures and so, like I do with just about anything I need to research, I typed that phrase into Google. Ah, yes! Paul’s instructions to the church in Ephesus:[B]e filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Ephesians 5:19-20) Don’t these words describe our experience last night almost exactly?
Weren’t we receiving God’s assurance of his forgiveness and joy and peace for ourselves, but also for each other? Didn’t we all draw from the same air as we breathed in and breathed out our prayers to our God who filled every crevice of the room last night (and every night)? Weren’t we remembering for ourselves but also for each other as we shared communion that God is in our breathing, our resting, our hoping, our working, our weeping, our everything? And didn’t we join together as a community as well as with Jesus in the word “our” as we prayed the words Jesus taught us to pray?
We began our Practices for Life in the Now and Not Yet last night, during which we will walk through the Lord’s Prayer line by line, and I will remember Aaron’s teaching on the phrase “Our Father in Heaven” for a long time. It seemed to come out from the very heart of God. Just a few highlights:
- The address of our prayers is what distinguishes prayer from worrying out loud. (quoting Dallas Willard).
- “Our” – by this word, Jesus puts himself in our company and we put ourselves in the company of Jesus and the entire family of believers all over the world, past, present, and future.
- “Father” – by this word, Jesus reminds us most fundamentally that we are invited by God, through Christ, into a relationship with the Almighty, who is bigger than our minds can conceive. This word might raise objections deep within us.
- I thought God was spirit, not male or female? We know that God is spirit (John 4:24) but over time, we have formed him into the image of a man, as we conceive of gender here on earth, but many passages of Scripture describe the maternal/feminine characteristics of God.
- I have a hard time separating the word “father” from my earthly father and, is that what God is like? The word “father” is loaded for all of us because we all have a very human dad. Even if we had an involved, loving father, over time, we realize they have faults and haven’t always loved us perfectly. As we feel this objection in praying the “our Father,” let’s stay curious about what comes up and lay it before God for healing and understanding.
- “in heaven” – this phrase has led us to imagine a great distance between us and God, but many scholars believe the better translation is “in the heavens,” meaning that God floods every part of the atmosphere and is closer than the air we breathe. Think of Acts 17:28, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” The beautiful image Aaron gave of God’s presence as water filling a room and moving through every person present will stay with me.
Jesus’ invitation to us is that we experience the nearness of God’s presence and Joan Kelley taught us breath prayer as a way to say yes to this invitation. Let’s practice that this week and see if we begin to experience God’s closeness as Jesus’ disciples did when he breathed on them (John 20:21-22). Here are Joan’s steps to help us practice breath prayer:
- Quiet your body, mind and heart as you breathe deeply.
- Notice the nearness of God with the rhythm of your breathing.
- Breathe in a favorite name of God.
- Breathe out a desire of your heart.
- Continue this rhythm of prayer throughout your day.
Last night, the name of God I breathed in was “Father,” and the desire I breathed out was “help me.” What about you?
May we experience our Father, who is closer than the air we breathe, individually and as a community.
Grace be with you,