Have you ever been so busy you can’t even think straight? I don’t know what to write here. I’m tasked with writing a bulletin article this week, but like many of you, I’ve been very busy lately with lots of other “stuff” and have put it off until this moment. Now I sit here, in front of my computer, looking at the stacks of paperwork on my desk and post-it notes with reminders, with one eye on the clock so I don’t miss the meeting I have coming up soon, and through all of that trying to focus on writing something profound and meaningful, maybe a little heart-tugging, for you good people. And I don’t even know where to begin. So I’ll begin where we always begin and pray the Sign of the Cross ✠ – Lord, may whatever words I write here be written in and through Your name: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.
That’s not the first time I’ve prayed over what to write about here today, but I wanted to share that prayer with you. Sometimes it seems we make things too complicated, at least I know I do, but the simple, yet powerful prayer of the Sign of the Cross helps me clear away mental clutter and remember what’s important: working through Him, in His name, toward His purpose. Have you ever done something like that when your brain is fogged up with too many details? Have you stepped back, closed your eyes, and counted slowly to ten while paying attention to your breath? Have you invited the Lord into that space, either through the Sign of the Cross or another prayer? If I may, I’d like to share two very simple calming prayers for those hectic moments or just when you want to quiet the whirlwind of your mind and focus on God, like maybe before Mass begins and you want to stop thinking about the grocery list.
The first is beyond simple but uses both your mind and body to invite God in and is one of my favorites when I’m running later than I want to for Mass, leaving little time for prayer before the opening procession. First, close your eyes (please skip this step if you’re praying while driving). Next, hold your breath for just a couple of seconds, just enough to slow your rate of breathing a bit. Now, when you start to breathe again, begin with a full expansion of your lungs and as you take that breath in (inhalation), think or say, “Yah”. Don’t hold it, but breathe out (exhalation) as you normally would and think or say, “weh”. Repeat as many times as needed until your mind is cleared or you’ve focused on the Lord, or, I suppose, Mass begins! This is a breathing prayer and it brings the name of God, Yahweh, to our mind and heart through our very breath. When I do this prayer, once I’ve begun to quiet down, I notice the muscles pull and release my ribcage as I breathe, feeling the rise and fall of my chest, and I sometimes imagine the Holy Spirit filling my lungs just as the breath of God filled the lungs of Adam when He created him. This prayer is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful.
Another favorite of mine, especially when I want to enter into meditation or deeper prayer, begins with a verse of Scripture, Ps 46:11, “Be still and know that I am God.” Start with that verse, praying it slowly as you begin to center your thoughts on it. Then, pray slowly again, but this time drop off the last word so you are praying, “Be still and know that I am…” and just let that space be there. When you’re ready, don’t rush it but you’ll know when, go ahead and pray it again, dropping off the last word again so that you’re now praying, “Be still and know that I…” Repeat this format until you’ve gotten to just the word, “Be,” and the openness that comes after it.
We talk often about listening in prayer, being silent and hearing what God wants to say to us; that’s what the “empty space” at the end of each line is for: to listen. Sometimes this is a movement of the heart or a word from someone else that He gives them to share, and sometimes it’s a word He gives us directly. I can’t emphasize this enough: don’t rush through this prayer and don’t fill up that emptiness with your own words, leave it as room for God to speak to you. One time several years ago I was praying this quieting prayer and something unique happened that I had never experienced before or since with this prayer. God spoke into each of the empty spaces. I won’t share all of what He said to me, but for one of the repetitions as I silently prayed, “Be still and know that I…” I heard at the end of the phrase, “love you.” It was a very moving encounter with the Lord as He completed each line with some word or phrase that He wanted me to know at that moment.
We are all busy, sometimes so much so that we forget what we are busy doing or why it’s important, but I hope that one of these prayers or some other one that you use will help remind you to quiet your mind and listen to the Voice that longs to rest in your heart. When I remember to lean into Him, to bring Him into my busy-ness, to call on His name instead of counting to ten, He never fails to focus me, fulfill me, and draw me closer to Him. Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated or long or wordy, it just has to be sincere and open to Him.