One afternoon in March 2020, feeling overwhelmed at the news I was hearing about a virus called COVID-19, I took a moment to do what I often do in times of stress – journal.
During that time I remembered a breath prayer I’d written previously based on some words from the Apostle Paul. It came to be called “The Breath Prayer” and it has since been shared thousands of times, inspiring artwork (like Chris Duffett’s And Breathe above) and memes (like Joanne Wilson’s below), and helping people beyond the pandemic.
A breath prayer is a simple, short prayer said in a single breath. It’s very helpful in times of busyness and stress as it can be prayed while working or during a short break.
You pray the first line slowly breathing in
and the second line slowly breathing out
The words I based the prayer on are powerful in moments of stress, because it’s hard to fight fear and have strength to help others through willpower alone. We need to be empowered to be virtuous. And so here’s the gift: Paul says that when we ask, God’s Spirit will fill us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
So find a quiet place, sit still for a moment, then try praying each line breathing in for three seconds, then out for three seconds. Don’t worry about reading it to begin with. In time you’ll memorise it. Just breathe slowly and focus the words on God.
The Breath Prayer
Lord God, fill me with your Holy Spirit.
I receive your love,
and release my insecurity
I receive your joy,
and release my unhappiness
I receive your peace,
and release my anxiety
I receive your patience,
and release my impulsiveness
I receive your kindness,
and release my indifference
I receive your goodness,
and release my ungodliness
I receive your faithfulness,
and release my disloyalty
I receive your gentleness,
and release my severity
I receive your self-control,
and release my self-indulgence
“Coronavirus is of such a magnitude that future historians who write books in the 2050s will divide post-war Britain into BC and AC – Before Corona and After Corona. I think it’s that significant.”
Peter Hennessy, BBC Radio 4
“Are we really ready for a pandemic? Not so much for the virus itself as the personal sacrifices and inconveniences that might follow… This isn’t just a test of clinical resources but a test too, in some ways, of [our] willingness to put ourselves out for others.”
Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian
“Pandemics hold up a mirror to society and force us to ask basic questions: What is possible imminent death trying to tell us? Where is God in all this? What’s our responsibility to one another?”
David Brooks, New York Times
These quotes sum up the historic moment COVID-19 placed us in. As historian Peter Hennessy went on to say, a global crisis of this magnitude hasn’t been faced since World War II and will have lasting effects on our societies. Hinsliff’s and Brook’s words, written just before the pandemic broke, were echoed in a thousand media reports of self-isolation and other contagion-fighting measures, plus the ‘contagions’ of fear and panic buying. When the pandemic started the world was talking about virtue. Would we do what was needed to help not just ourselves, but vulnerable strangers too?
Coronavirus has placed our economic and health systems under unprecedented stress, not to mention many of us personally. Each day has brought new concerns for elderly parents, infected friends and neighbours, even our own livelihoods. In testing times, where can we find the inner resources to cope with the inherent anxieties ahead and rise to consider others?
Richard Foster once described holiness as “doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done”. It’s an intriguing definition that makes sense in times like these. I wrote this breath prayer to help us do what needs to be done in times of difficulty.
When life doesn’t go as planned
Unsurprisingly, a book I wrote about life not going as planned has also seen renewed interest lately. Over the last 18 months I’ve asked myself if I really believe what I wrote in The Making of Us: whether closed doors can really allow new adventures to begin, whether losing an identity can really help us discover who we really are, and whether adversity can really release our best gifts into the world.
And you know what? I do believe it. Despite all the uncertainty, I do.
Article supplied with thanks to Sheridan Voysey.
About the author: Sheridan Voysey is an author and broadcaster on faith and spirituality. His latest book is called Reflect with Sheridan. Download his free inspirational printable The Creed.
Feature image: “And Breathe” by Chris Duffett