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“What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe.” Thomas Merton

Prayer begins with the inhale. Before we are able to utter anything with our lips we must first draw through them the air that fills us, enabling not only our speech but also our life. And we must remember that humanity did not take the first breath but that it was given to us. God’s exhale became humanity’s first inhale, filling us not only with life, but the ability to participate in the creative power of breathing. For it was God’s breath that uttered the world into existence, and God’s breath that filled humanity with life.

And so before we gather words to give to our God, we must first realize that this activity of prayer is itself a gift from God. It is the very breath that God breathed into humanity that we in turn direct back to God. Taking in and breathing out this breath of God is no trifling matter. “This is not an enterprise to be entered into lightly,” Eugene Peterson notes. “When we pray we are using words that bring us into proximity with words that break cedars, shake the wilderness, make the oaks whirl, and strip forests bare (Ps. 29:5-9).”

Prayer is the breath of God in our lives. Prayer begins with receiving from God. If we are not waiting in silence for the Lord (Ps 62), or receiving the God-breathed scripture into our lives (II Tm 3:16), or listening to the counsel of the wise (Pr 8:33-35), then the words we breath will be little more than toxic wind. Just as fresh air is crucial to the activity of breathing, so also is the taking in of these breaths of God in the activity of prayer.

But it is not only waiting but also acting, not only receiving but also giving, not only listening but also speaking, for we cannot act without having waited, or give without having received, or speak without having listened. Life exists in the rhythm of the two. And in the act of praying we place ourselves in this rhythm of life. A rhythm of receiving God’s perpetual gift of life, as well as taking that breath and creating words similar to God’s that create and bring life.

In doing this, we place ourselves further in the depths of God where we were created to live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Having been invited into the depths, we now have the opportunity to invite the depths into us. In God we live and move and have our being, but through prayer we open ourselves up so God can live and move and have God’s being in us. May our prayer life be so wrapped up in this rhythm of taking in and praying out, that we may be able to utter the words, “how I pray is breathe.”