Saturday, February 23, 2013

Inhaling the Divine Breath

Reflections on the Readings
Second Sunday of Lent - February 24, 2013 - Year C
The Year of Faith 

What is Prayer?
(Inhaling the Divine Breath)

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! Thou hast said, "Seek ye my face." My heart says to thee, "Thy face, Lord, do I seek." Hide not thy face from me. (Psalm 27:7-9) RSV

I did an informal survey before writing this Reflection. I asked several people to give me a short answer to the question, "What is prayer?" Their brief and thoughtful answers included: Acknowledging God; Speaking to the Lord; Private time with God; Communication with God. Others said that prayer is faith or asking for mercy. One suggested that prayer should be for the most part a non-selfish expression in which the petitioner finds hope even if his particular requests are not answered promptly or in the expected way.

One person suggested with a smile of knowing that prayer is love to God. The beloved apostle John wrote, "We love him, because he first loved us." The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that love is the foundation of Christian prayer. St. Augustine used the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well to teach about the wonder of prayer. He said that the wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is Christ who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God's desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him. (quote from CCC #2560)

St. ThéRèse of Lisieu said, "For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy." Cardinal Ravisi in leading the Papal Lenten retreat this past week compared prayer to the verb "to breathe." He said believers need to look on prayer the same way as they do breath, as a physical necessity rather than an optional free-time activity. He quoted Kierkegaard: "Why do I pray? Why do I breathe? Because otherwise I'd die."

Prayer is to inhale the divine breath:

The same breath of God that hovered over the chaotic earth and created a new world;

The same breath of God Jesus breathed on his disciples giving them the ministry of reconciliation;

The same breath of God that filled the upper room on the Day of Pentecost as a mighty, rushing wind.

Sometimes Christian prayer is too intense, too deep, for words. We sometimes do not have a vocabulary to make a prayer. We may not even know how we ought to pray. However, even to acknowledge this is to pray. To pray this way is a prayer of the heart. This prayer of the heart is an invitation for the divine breath to breathe deeply in us until we and the ones we pray for are filled with an awareness of the height, depth, and width of the immeasurable, immortal, and immense love God has for us and for his creation.

Jesus said, "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

O breath of God breathe in me that I may live. Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at   His website is: 

No comments: