I should probably begin by stating that I did, finally, make it home. My driving angels got quite bruised when Gypsy slipped on the ice, nearly wedging me under a semi, and then spinning me out across the road so that I ended up facing oncoming traffic in the fast lane. Incredibly, I wasn’t hit or even scratched. God is very good to me.
In the white-knuckled minutes of that drive, I found myself repeating what I have heard many people call a “breath prayer.” Just the simple words Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. It’s an ancient prayer. I have always been intrigued by the simplicity of it. For word-drunk me, it could seem almost miserly. Too spare an address to God. And yet, Lord have mercy. Those three words manage to sum up my litany of usual requests. They encapsulate exactly what I desire in every area of my life. I found that they were just what I needed in my dire moment the other day.
I think there are times in life when fear becomes your breath, when need is an ache in your stomach, and suddenly, there are no extra words to be had for a prayer. Your whole body, the strain of mind, the ache of heart, becomes its own prayer. I had such a moment as my car spun out. Sound ceased, thought froze. Yet through it came the whisper, Lord have mercy. When I could not form my own plea, the rhythm of that prayer in my heart spoke for me, fused its voice into the silence of my utmost need.
I think perhaps I would like to pray more like that at all times. Oh, I love and deeply value the freedom of speaking back and forth, easy with God. I love the dressed-up pageantry of good church liturgy. But there is a bare bones simplicity to that breath prayer that makes real to me the undisguised essence of my own need as I come, arms outstretched, to beg God’s abundance. I’d like to breathe that prayer throughout my day as a sort of grounding. Those words make a stark space inside of me where what is true is clear; my weakness, God’s strength.
One of my favorite passages in one of my favorite books (Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge) is the exchange between an old man and a young woman on the verge of despair: There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. They are these, ‘Lord, have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands.’ Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these, you will do well.
I think he had a point.