Sometimes grace happens even before we need it.
I was riding the rapid transit train across the bay to my dental appointment. I had a book to read, as I don’t own a “smart phone,” only a small flip-phone, which I had left at home. This particular book, grabbed on my way out the door, is entitled, A Journey Through Grief, by Alla Renée Bozarth (Hazelden Publishing [April 19, 1994]).
Fresh on my mind and heart was the phone conversation of the night before that my husband and I had with a friend. Her spouse—a wonderful dad, music teacher, and fine human being—died a few months ago. My husband and I will preside over the service, but we are still working through our own sadness and loss at his passing.
In this small but wise book, the author, a therapist and Episcopal priest, emphasizes the importance of continuing to breathe—and breathe deeply—in the midst of grief work. And she also adds the suggestion to breathe with an affirmation or prayer. Breathing in with one phrase, and breathing out with another.
What came to me was this simple one:
[Breathing in] God is…
[Breathing out] faith-ful.
It felt comforting and strong, which was a good thing for as we approached my stop, the operator’s voice came on the intercom system letting us all know that we would be bypassing my train stop because of police activity. Great.
I would be late to my appointment. I had no phone. And I knew I would probably somehow need to find the right bus to backtrack to my destination. Small stuff compared to the loss of a good man, yet still stressful.
But in the midst of my concerns, the little phrase stayed with me, as a place of grounding. God is … faith-ful.
I exited the train at the next stop, moving with the stream of people with me. I didn’t know where I’d find the right bus, but I did know I needed to borrow a stranger’s cell phone. I glanced around me, at the others also exiting the turnstiles, and exchanged a glance with a woman who looked as if she might be Japanese American (as I am). I followed her through the turnstile and took a leap of faith.
“Pardon me, but may I ask you a question?”
She turned to face me, but looked a little wary. I asked to use her cell phone, explaining that I was supposed to get off at the last stop, and needed to let my dentist’s office know I would be late. She looked uncertain, but said she’d make the call for me, and dialed the number I gave her, putting her phone on speaker mode so that I could talk into it while she held it in my direction. I was able to let the dentist’s office know, and breathed a sigh of relief.
The owner of the cell phone visibly relaxed now that she knew I had been honest with her. We talked more, and she shared that she also had needed to get off at the last stop and thought she could figure out the right direction. So, in a nutshell, we walked back together to the area of our original stop, chatting pleasantly the whole way. And I made it to my appointment right on time.
God provided. But what I was most grateful for was the little breath prayer, or Prayer of the Heart. It kept me from panicking because even before the change of plans announced by the train operator, I had in my head and heart that God is faithful.
The prayer is with me still—even when I forget to breathe as fully as I might. It is a little reminder of the big anchor—strength and grounding—there is in God each day, every moment of life.
The breath prayer is a wonderful way to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17), since it is easy to carry with you throughout the day.
The Reverend Dr. Diana Nishita Cheifetz is a spiritual director, serving lay leaders and clergy in the San Francisco Bay area, the U.S.A., and internationally. Her website is www.spiritualdirectionforpastors.com.