Today’s Lectio Divina: Excerpts from Psalm 34. (MsgB)
I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with His praise.
I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.
A few years ago, I caught up with an old hero of mine.
John Michael Talbot.
Back in the day (1979), when I was managing a Logos Christian Bookstore in Evanston, IL, I was enthralled with a new album called The Lord’s Supper. This music, written and performed by John Michael Talbot, was used by God to give me my first true taste of the contemplative life in Christ. A life I’ve now chosen, after all these years, to be my truest profession.
I won’t get too far into the controversy that was circulating at that time surrounding John Michael. Suffice to say that there were many evangelical Christians who just couldn’t make room in their theology for a pop-singer-songwriter, who was born and raised in the Methodist church, and had now become a Franciscan monk. But in 1978, John Michael did just that and his contemporary rock music was now being transformed into a powerful voice for the contemplative life, as practiced by St. Francis and other contemplatives who had gone before him.
A long-time fan of John Michael’s music, I was excited that he was coming to Cedar Rapids for three nights of teaching and singing. A lot of my evangelical friends couldn’t seem to overcome their skepticism and refused to attend these sessions since a local Catholic parish was hosting them. But the Holy Spirit, apparently, had no problem being in attendance and my wife and I enjoyed three amazing evenings of “Come to the Quiet” with this now much-older sage who still uses his music to bring people into the presence of the Lord.
On the second evening, John Michael taught us about Theophan the Recluse, a Russian Orthodox priest, who in the 19th century, taught his illiterate parishioners to pray the well-known Jesus Prayer, sometimes also called the breath prayer. It seems that Theophan took seriously Paul’s words to the Thessalonians to ‘pray without ceasing’, and since so many of his parishioners were poor farmers and laborers who worked long, difficult hours at their day jobs, Theophan taught his friends to simply pray this prayer as they breathed!
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
That spring evening in a local Catholic parish, John Michael Talbot, once again was used by God to transform my life. As John Michael showed us how to sit upright, hands extended to the Lord, relaxed in mind, body and spirit, we prayed the Jesus Prayer quietly for several minutes. As I slowly breathed in, I asked the Holy Spirit to fill me with the presence of my Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God. As I slowly breathed out, I confessed to God my great need for His mercy, a sinner who is forever needy of a fresh touch of His love.
Over the next few weeks, my wife and I continued to utilize this simple little model of quiet, contemplative prayer. And were we amazed at the results we were finding! Within days, we both began to experience a closer intimacy with Christ. And for me, a long time sufferer of worry, stress and tension, my blood pressure actually went down several points over those first few weeks! Amazing!
Maybe King David was right in Psalm 34?
If I can become that man who lives and breathes God, blessing Him every chance I get, expanding my lungs with His praise, He will indeed help me catch my breath!
Thank you, St. Theopan and John Michael. I truly needed that breath of fresh air!
(for more on Breath Prayer…click here!)
My prayer: Father, I breathe in Your Holy presence as I exhale out my sinful nature. Fill me with Your Holy Wind as I empty myself of all my hot air! For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: What might it look like for me to practice more faithfully the fine art of contemplative prayer, where every breath I take has an element of breathing in the presence of God while exhaling my sinful nature?
So what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Psalms?
Over a 50-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at The Psalms: God’s Songbook of Prayers. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Contemplating the Psalms home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Sustainable Faith-Heartland network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.
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