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A hundred deep breaths.....

510 S. Farwell St., Eau Claire WI 54701 • 715.835.3734 Map to the Cathedral

A hundred deep breaths.....

~Fr. Michael

Christmas is nearly here, and Advent is upon us.  Every year we are challenged by the church’s call to keep a time of penitent, joyful expectation, especially as the world around us has no place for waiting or expectation.  Perhaps it feels a little difficult to try to be joyful when so many expectations are bearing down on you.  Sometimes it’s difficult to look forward to such a hectic and draining season, much less try to enjoy waiting for it. 

But what we’re waiting on comes from a God who knows our nature, our selves; and knows of our knack for getting bogged down by expectations; and knows of our impatience and our desire for instant gratification.  From that depth of wisdom, God has built creation in such a way that it benefits from stopping and resting; pausing to reflect and refresh.  Sabbath is built into creation from the very beginning, and God’s people are instructed to keep it as a commandment.  Advent, if observed as a season set aside by God, has the same power to sanctify our waiting as the Sabbath does to sanctify our rest.  And more, both are meant for our refreshment and benefit by someone who we suppose knows something about our well-being.

So, how does one learn to appreciate waiting?  An easy answer is to learn how to stop and say a short prayer.  Prayer opens up the possibility that we can live in and appreciate the moment that we are in, and be better attuned to ourselves, our neighbors, and God.  And while you feel you have a grip on the whole how the whole prayer-at-church thing works, many people find taking moments of mindfulness and enjoyment to be difficult.  So, how do you start to pray?  It doesn’t need to be formal.  You don’t need to wait for it to be right.  And while adjusting your environment to be more suitable to prayer can sometimes help, it isn’t really necessary.  You can do it anywhere, any time. 

It’s as simple as taking a deep breath…

Have you noticed sometimes when you are feeling stressed that stopping and taking a deep breath can have a remarkable effect?  Perhaps it doesn’t cure your stress completely, but it helps to stretch muscles, helps to focus your mind, and it just plain feels good.  And while a deep breath might not qualify in some people’s books as a prayer in and of itself, I would argue that it’s pretty close.  It doesn’t take much more than a nudge to turn a deep breath into a full-fledged prayer.  In fact, the only thing it takes is an intention.  Instead of passively living through something your body goes through several times a day, draw your attention to growing more peaceful, or being more aware of your body or environment, or use your imagination (or will) to generate a charitable thought about another person.  Your breath has just become a prayer, and a moment of conscious waiting has probably done you a world of good.

If you practice this, you can get pretty good at it.  You might even find that doing it a few times in a row can be helpful.  *Please be careful to note:  don’t do anything like this against your physical comfort or health — if you have questions or problems, you should consult your physician*  But, if it helps, of if you enjoy it, you can stretch out the time, and enjoy it more, and enter into a time of mindfulness a little more deeply.  If you’re anything like me, though, you’ll find that your attention wanders off after a while and you can’t keep your mind from tugging at you to get up and do the next thing.  There are a few things that you can do easily to help with this.  Some people find that having a tactile reminder like a rosary or a prayer rope helps to pull them back to the mindful moment, for others sometimes a visual reminder, like a candle or an icon, can help.  While I do like both those methods, sometimes when I’m not around any of those things, simply counting can help maintain some focus.

For myself, I try to set a pace of a hundred a day.  After a while, I lose count, but after even a few days of trying it, you know about how long a hundred breaths takes.  It can be a remarkable experience.  It only takes about 15 minutes or so, but it feels like a much longer time while you’re doing it.  It’s fascinating to see where your mind and heart can take you when you stop to have a moment like that.  I’ve experienced a whole range of prayerful experiences.  Most often, I find a Bible verse pops into my head and repeats itself gently; sometimes I find a deeper awareness of my physical self, sometimes I find that just the act of air passing in and out of my lungs can be a start of a deep prayer.  After a long time of practicing this, I am aware that my body has become accustomed to it, and misses it when I don’t take the time to do it.  But since I’m more used to it, I find that I can do it, even just for a short time, almost anywhere:  A car trip, in a waiting room, when your lunch partner has stepped away, on a walk, and even while exercising (although the breathing patterns change a bit).

As Christmas looms and Advent beckons, try taking a moment to appreciate the now, and the not yet, by just taking a deep breath, or two, or a hundred.