This elegant book is organized in five parts. The first is introductory, which the author calls “Entering the Practice,” including recommended methods for quieting oneself, using divine names, and waking up.
Next comes “The Grace of Daily Tasks,” and here are all of the ordinary things we do every day, with spiritual practices devised to sanctify them: “Getting Dressed,” “Eating and Savoring,” “Doing the Laundry” — even “Balancing Your Finances” and “Running Late” are here. The spiritual advice and practices for “Running Late” are several, including this, an example of what Valters Paintner calls a breath prayer:
“When you find yourself stuck in traffic or another situation where you know you are going to be delayed, after sending a message to the person waiting for you, accept the invitation to breathe.”
“Breathe in: 'I bring myself here and now.'
Breathe out: 'I will arrive in good time.' ”
“With your inhale, try to be as present to this moment as possible. With your exhale, try to release any worries and anxieties, knowing that you have no control over the situation other than your response. All you can do is trust that you will arrive safely.”
“You will arrive in good time, which means it might not be the time you had wanted or planned to arrive — it might even mean you miss something altogether (depending on how late you actually are), but you give yourself grace in these moments, knowing nothing will change by your growing frustration.”
Part Three is “Sanctifying Time,” which has already been taking place but here becomes even more deliberate. These occasions include “Start of the Workday,” “Sabbath Day,” and “Bedtime.”
Part Four is “Blessing the Seasons of Our Lives,” and here the occasions for spiritual moments become even more frequent and unique. We especially appreciated three pages on “Crossing a Doorway or Threshold.” Paintner’s inspirations are Irish (she lives in Ireland) and Jewish — both Celtic and Jewish spiritualities are rich with these traditions — and here is another good example of the meaning of the book’s title, in that some prayers are so quiet, ideally so frequent, and then become so commonplace with everyday practice, that they become “breath prayers.” Valters Paintner writes:
“Breathe in: 'Crossing over'
Breathe out: 'the veil is thin.' ”
“As you breathe in, depending on whether you are leaving or arriving via the doorway, you can say crossing over as you physically move across the threshold. Then with the exhale, say the veil is thin as a way of honoring the sacredness of this experience and its possibility and potential for revealing what is behind the veil, if only for a moment. Become aware of the sacred presence here. What does the God of thresholds invite us to consider?”
The final part of the book aims to teach the reader who is now ready, in “Composing Your Own Breath Prayers.” This is a very rich resource.
One final note: Sometimes one of Paintner’s original breath prayers is repeated as a design element on a page, presented also as a poem, such as this one:
“Scrub the toilet, sink
and shower tiles.
An act of love
making all things new”
Christine Valters Paintner is online Abbess at the Abbey of the Arts, a Benedictine Oblate, and an expressive arts consultant; she is featured in our Living Spiritual Teachers project. Her readers are accustomed to her beautiful and meaning-filled poetry.