A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Pulse Prayer

By Fr Gerard Whiteford

Once, during a retreat, a person I was accompanying plonked himself in the chair opposite me and exclaimed, with some degree of frustration, “I can’t pray!”

“Do you want to pray?” I asked. “Of course,” he replied.

“Do you know why you want to?” I enquired. This brought some time of silence and quiet reflection. Then, somewhat sheepishly, he acknowledged that he was not really sure. However, there was something about ‘having to.’ ‘Having to’ is a starting point.

I invited him to hold out his hand, palm up, and locate his pulse  -- you may like to do the same as you read. Usually, the pulse can be readily found on the wrist. Next, I invited the gentleman to hold a finger gently on the pulse and to feel its insistent beating. Just to sit and feel the pulse. Then, I invited him to say slowly the line from Acts 17:28: “In you, I live and move and have my being.”

Together we sat in silence, experiencing the beat of life within, that which enables me to affirm ‘I am,’ and to also affirm the Author of that beat of life. In prayer nothing more needs be done. Prayer is not a matter of getting somewhere. Rather, it is a matter of really ‘being where I am,’ what Brother Lawrence describes as “The Practice of the Presence of God.” [Nicolas Herman, 1614 – 1691, entered the Carmelite priory in Paris as a lay brother, not having the education necessary to become a cleric, and took the religious name, ‘Lawrence of the Resurrection.’ He spent almost all of the rest of his life within the walls of the priory, working in the kitchen for the most part, and as a repairer of sandals in his later years.]

Our pulse confirms for us the reality that I am breathing, that I am alive!

In the Creed, we pray: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life.” Our word ‘Spirit’ is derived from the Latin ‘spiritus,’ the core meaning of which is ‘breath.’ In Hebrew, the word for Spirit is ‘ruach.’ Again, the word translates as breath, and in Greek, the word for Spirit is ‘pneuma’, and again, this translates as breath. Breath/Spirit, Spirit/Breath. In John’s Gospel we read, “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ ” (John 20:22).

To attend to my breathing is to attend to my God!

Prayer Practice: Allot yourself a period of time. I suggest no more than five to ten minutes to begin with. Also, it is helpful to set an alarm, so you are not concerned about when to end.

Find a comfortable seat with an upright back, and at a height which enables you to have both feet flat on the floor.

Sit upright with your back against the chair and your feet on the floor.

Turn your hand palm upward and locate your pulse. Lay your finger on the pulse and notice its insistent beat.

Slowly repeat the phrase, “In you I live and move and have my being.” Do nothing more, say nothing more; attend to the beat of your God within you.  

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