Breath and mindfulness give us the awareness and space we need to make choices that are aligned with our values. Brené Brown
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:6-7)
Church people used to have a saying: When in a fix, Philippians 4:6. It was a catch phrase to help us remember today’s verse. The idea was that when something bad or scary happens, remember to pray instead of worrying.
The catchy phrase trained me to talk to God more often, but talking-prayer didn’t entirely do the trick. Sometimes this method works, but it has limitations. Let me explain…
Anxiety has always been a way of life for human beings. In the ancient pagan world, most people were raised to worship many gods and goddesses—all of whom were potentially out to get you. In Paul’s day, even the Jews were afraid of God’s wrath. This is why Jesus labored to teach everyone a more truthful way of thinking about God—God as a good parent who is attentive, compassionate and helpful.
Here in Philippians, Paul is teaching on the same topic. He’s saying: With the Good God revealed in Christ Jesus, there is no guarantee against suffering, but we can be sure that God listens and will respond with loving help and care. Instead of worrying, pray. As you do, God will calm you down and protect your mind and heart from anxiety. This was a revolutionary thought for anyone afraid of God’s punishment, power or distance.
In chapter four of Rising Strong Brené Brown brings up the subject of “paying attention” to our anxious feelings and calming ourselves down. Another word for this in “mindfulness” and another idea for that is “meditation.”
As a person and a spiritual director, I am convinced that in Philippians 4:6 Paul is encouraging more than simply “talking prayer.” I believe in talking prayer! I also believe that some form of quiet-minded prayer is a necessary part of prayer in general. Until we learn some form of meditative prayer, I’m afraid we will always struggle with anxious thoughts.
In chapter four Brené explains the concept of mindfulness and makes several recommendations for practice. I’ll summarize them here and add a few of my own.
- Breath Practice. I’ve tried all kinds. Brené recommends “tactical breathing” as practiced by first responders. Read about it in Chapter Four. I mostly use a practice I learned in Svaroopa Yoga, which is a kind of therapeutic yoga.
- Silence. I sit in 5-10 minutes of prayerful silence each morning as soon as I finish my spiritual reading and before I plan my day or go outside to workout.
- Walking or running outdoors. Being in nature and moving rhythmically will change you at the molecular and spiritual level.
- Centering Prayer. This one is a life commitment, and it will revolutionize everything about your life. It comes out of Ignatian spirituality, which is Christian. There are numerous ways to learn and practice Centering Prayer– books, retreats, groups and with a spiritual director. If you read, Open Mind, Open Heart by Father Thomas Keating is a good place to start.
Would you like to learn more about mindfulness, breath practice, meditation or centering prayer? If so, post your questions as a comment to this thread. I am passionate about this topic, and I’d love to help you learn more.
LORD God, teach me new ways to pray.