Three words

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.



Filed under Musings

9 responses to “Three words

  1. Such beautiful prayers, these three word breaths.

  2. I found a few moments to pause and decided to step into your world for a wee visit. Whoosh! I was instantly captivated by your tumultuous adventure and passionate journey.

    You, my dear, live so fully and with such passion — ever questing for more of Him . . . and life. Continue to pad your life with those promises fit for standing upon as you find Him GREAT as always. It is such a joy (and an exhilerating ride of late) to pop in for a visit and find so much to celebrate with you in this dance of joy across life’s pages.

    Keep writing, keep reaching, keep finding, keep celebrating.

    XO ~~ Debbie

  3. Beautiful prayers, so much better than my own quick prayer which is usually “AAAACK!”. 🙂

    I am SO glad you made it home safe and sound.

  4. Sunshine

    Oh I am SO glad you made it home safe and sound! I had a three word moment this weekend when my youngest girl fell and hit her eyebrow and needed stitches. It truly is breath prayers because with each breath you cry out for mercy and protection – just Him – His presence.

    I LOVE your blog and venture here quite often – esp when we are having a harried day schooling! Your blog is a haven of gentle words and beautiful perspectives – endless talent that praises your Creator – and for that I am SO thankful! Sunshine

  5. Sarah, I am reading a book about that breath prayer. “The Jesus Prayer” by Frederica Matthewes Greene. I am enjoying it and find myself praying this prayer throughout my day. Blessings to you. By the way , don’t you love Hannah Coulter? I just read a great poem by Wendell Berry- “The Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front. Have you read it? I want to read more of hos poetry.

  6. B

    Glad you survived your incident! Scary stuff!!!

    Thought you might find the history of breath prayers interesting…… I just finished a book called ‘A Time of Departing’ by Ray Youngen that details it and a couple other ancient practices that are resurfacing today. FASCINATING beyond words!!!

  7. Sarah

    Thank you all!

    And yes Amy, I love Hannah Coulter in a way I have rarely loved any other book. I’m going to review it at some point. And I have got to read that poem by Berry- I love the title.

    B- thanks for the recommendation! Can’t wait to look it up.

    • B

      My oops….. I misspelled his name *blush*, we’ll blame it on mom brain! lol! It is Ray Yungen – no “o”…… Hope that makes him easier to find :o) and that you enjoy the book as much as I did!

  8. Ray

    Hello, greetings from Sheffield, UK. I found your blog after searching for the source of these three prayers after someone spoke of them in this morning’s Quaker Meeting for Worship. And I see you like Kate Rusby too! Voice of an angel.

    Peace & Love

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