These days there are numerous phone apps that can help you keep track of your health – diet, fitness, and even heart rate. One such app that I stumbled upon recently is called Breathe, which notifies you periodically to stop and practice a deep breathing repetition for a couple of minutes.
It’s really not a bad idea. With the pace many of us keep, it’s difficult to quiet our racing minds and relax. Deep, repetitive breathing is one of our body’s built-in stress relievers.
There is a great way for Catholics to practice repetitive breathing while praying. A prayer from the ancient Church called The Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) is often prayed with deep breathing.
One way of praying it is mentally breathing in the first half – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” – and exhaling the second part – “have mercy on me, a sinner. ” Eastern Orthodox Christians often use a prayer rope that has 33 knots on it (for each year of Christ’s life) to keep them on track, much as we do with The Rosary. The repetition of this with the accompanying breath pattern is very effective for creating a restful time with God and reminding ourselves that we are in need of God’s mercy.
The scriptural origin of The Jesus Prayer is the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18) where the Publican prays “God be merciful to me, a sinner” as opposed the Pharisee’s self-righteous prayer. The earliest references to its use are in the 5th and 6th centuries. It was considered to be a prayer that produces inner stillness and peace.
Today this prayer is primarily practiced by Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics, not as many Roman Catholics employ it. Along with the Hail Mary, it is a go-to prayer for me. It is ideal for the Year of Mercy and an excellent way to still our over active minds while calling upon the help of the Lord.