how long can you hold your spiritual breath?


When I was young and adventuresome, I tried holding my breath for as long as possible. It was all part of my preparation to be able to swim in the deep section of Rainbow Beach in Vincennes, Indiana, my hometown. I managed to keep my breath long enough to swim underwater, but I never became accustomed to it.

You have a spiritual breath, you know.  It is the attention span that you tolerate for being in front of the Sacred, such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. As an aspiring Lay Cistercian, I began my spiritual breath holding it with barely a minute or two before my mind kept telling me to get out of there.  Now, I can go up to an hour( plus )before my mind takes me to places not consistent with the Sacred, such as what am I going to eat for dinner. I have noticed that, when this does happen, I can get back on track much quicker than before.  Also, I have lost my nervous foot (shaking nervously) behavior whenever I sit down. Contemplation has been, for me, a way to find peace and humility, and I consider myself just a toddler in the Cistercian way of thinking. I use the Rule of St. Benedict as my view of reality as interpreted by the Cistercian traditions of silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community, so that I might have a system against which I measure myself. I used to worry about being perfect as a Lay Cistercian, doing everything correctly and praying often, but I have now come to believe that all I need do is seek God daily with a heart open to what the Holy Spirit is telling me, and the rest follows. As Christ tells us in Matthew 6:

25n “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?o 27 Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?*28 Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. 29 But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. 30* If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ 32 All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides. 34 Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

Here are some ideas about how I sustain my Baptismal commitment each day. I use these sayings, not as a mantra to lull myself into some unconscious state of thinking, but rather just what St. Benedict intended. They are means to an and and that end is having in your the mind of Christ Jesus. Forget the end and the means all you do is just pass the time without any transformation from self to God.

  1. It takes a long time to attain any degree of self-control when thinking about contemplation and holding your thoughts. A danger in spirituality that I faced is thinking that everything depends on God and I don’t need to take up my cross daily and walk the road to my salvation. It takes time to acquire the art of contemplative spirituality. God has given me the gift of Faith but I must make that real each day with, through and in Christ Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, to the glory of the Father.
  2. A focus is key to keeping your mind from wandering. Cistercian practices help me stay grounded in my purpose –He must increase and I must decrease.
  3. Asking for God’s help is very important in the Lectio process, which is why Oratio (Prayer) is an important step. My prayer is always that Christ grant me the humility to seek Him without unconsioucly demanding that He meet me in my world under my conditions and do my bidding.
  4. Lectio Divina is a skill that is difficult, but not impossible to attain.
  5. Don’t give up.

Just because your road is rocky in your spiritually seeking God doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road.


I only hope to aspire to be a Lay Cistercian, which, I suppose I will be doing when I knock on the Heavenly Gates and once more ask for mercy. I am not an expert on anything Cistercian, only a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit who tries to seek God with all his heart, again and again.

The following reading is from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4. Tools for Good Works.  I try to read it every day, or at least some portion of it. I have found that I now treat each day as a new beginning, making all things new once more. The “Now” makes more sense to me each day than reflecting on the past, with its wailings and wanderings. As a Lay Cistercian, I find it remarkable that I am growing, almost imperceptibly, more and more into that which I seek, having the mind of Christ Jesus, my purpose of life. (Philippians 2:5) Having read the following tools, reflecting on their importance in my life, I am very slowly becoming what I read.

Forgiveness comes into play when I forget God is God and try to substitute my will for His. If you know what I am talking about, there is no need to explain further, if you do not know what I am saying, there is nothing I can do to make you aware.

Here are the tools for good works, as written by St. Benedict about 540 AD. I hope to become what I pray with God’s grace. I recite these good works each and every day.

The Instruments of Good Works

  • (1) In the first place to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength…
  • (2) Then, one’s neighbor as one’s self (cf Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31; Lk 10:27).
  • (3) Then, not to kill…
  • (4) Not to commit adultery…
  • (5) Not to steal…
  • (6) Not to covet (cf Rom 13:9).
  • (7) Not to bear false witness (cf Mt 19:18; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20). (8) To honor all men (cf 1 Pt 2:17).
  • (9) And what one would not have done to himself, not to do to another (cf Tob 4:16; Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31).
  • (10) To deny one’s self in order to follow Christ (cf Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23).
  • (11) To chastise the
  • body (cf 1 Cor 9:27).
  • (12) Not to seek after pleasures.
  • (13) To love fasting.
  • (14) To relieve the poor.
  • (15) To clothe the naked…
  • (16) To visit the sick (cf Mt 25:36).
  • (17) To bury the dead.
  • (18) To help in trouble.
  • (19) To console the sorrowing.
  • (20) To hold one’s self aloof from worldly ways.
  • (21) To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
  • (22) Not to give way to anger.
  • (23) Not to foster a desire for revenge.
  • (24) Not to entertain deceit in the heart.
  • (25) Not to make a false peace.
  • (26) Not to forsake charity.
  • (27) Not to swear, lest perchance one swear falsely.
  • (28) To speak the truth with heart and tongue.
  • (29) Not to return evil for evil (cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9).
  • (30) To do no injury, yea, even patiently to bear the injury done us.
  • (31) To love one’s enemies (cf Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27).
  • (32) Not to curse them that curse us, but rather to bless them.
  • (33) To bear persecution for justice sake (cf Mt 5:10).
  • (34) Not to be proud…
  • (35) Not to be given to wine (cf Ti 1:7; 1 Tm 3:3).
  • (36) Not to be a great eater.
  • (37) Not to be drowsy.
  • (38) Not to be slothful (cf Rom 12:11).
  • (39) Not to be a murmurer.
  • (40) Not to be a detractor.
  • (41) To put one’s trust in God.
  • (42) To refer what good one sees in himself,
  • not to self, but to God.
  • (43) But as to any evil in himself, let him be convinced that it is his own and charge it to himself.
  • (44) To fear the day of judgment.
  • (45) To be in dread of hell.
  • (46) To desire eternal life with all spiritual longing.
  • (47) To keep death before one’s eyes daily.
  • (48) To keep a constant watch over the actions of our life.
  • (49) To hold as certain that God sees us everywhere.
  • (50) To dash at once against Christ the evil thoughts which rise in one’s heart.
  • (51) And to disclose them to our spiritual father.
  • (52) To guard one’s tongue against bad and wicked speech.
  • (53) Not to love much speaking.
  • (54) Not to speak useless words and such as provoke laughter.
  • (55) Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
  • (56) To listen willingly to holy reading.
  • (57) To apply one’s self often to prayer.
  • (58) To confess one’s past sins to God daily in prayer with sighs and tears, and to amend them for the future.
  • (59) Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh (cf Gal 5:16).
  • (60) To hate one’s own will.
  • (61) To obey the commands of the Abbot in all things, even though he himself (which Heaven forbid) act otherwise, mindful of that precept of the Lord: “What they say, do ye; what they do, do ye not” (Mt 23:3).
  • (62) Not to desire to be called holy before one is; but to be holy first, that one may be truly so-called.
  • (63) To fulfill daily the commandments of God by works.
  • (64) To love chastity.
  • (65) To hate no one.
  • (66) Not to be jealous; not to entertain envy.
  • (67) Not to love strife.
  • (68) Not to love pride.
  • (69) To honor the aged.
  • (70) To love the younger.
  • (71) To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
  • (72) To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
  • (73) And never to despair of God’s mercy.
  • Behold, these are the instruments of the spiritual art, which, if they have been applied without ceasing day and night and approved on judgment day, will merit for us from the Lord that reward which He hath promised: “The eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). But the workshop in which we perform all these works with diligence is the enclosure of the monastery, and stability in the community.”

These spiritual habits are not the ends in themselves, but rather means whereby I can place myself in the real presence of Christ and wait. All of these tools and practices serve to propel and compel me to have in myself the mind of Christ Jesus, and to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Here are three ways I use Chapter 4 to place my heart next to the heart of Jesus. Some days are better than others.

  1. Try (and fail) to read Chapter 4 every day.  I always read one or two of the tools and try to apply those to my daily morning offering, asking that I do the will of the Father.
  2. I don’t try to do good works, just do the Cistercian practices as I can, placing my heart next to that of Our Lord and Savior. What comes from that are good works, in the sense of charisms for me to grow from self toward God.
  3. I find that the consistent practice to pray daily at a certain time, even if I miss the time, is itself a prayer to transform my false self to my true self, obedient to the will of God through Christ.
  4. In the Old Testament, God told the people how to relate with an unseen God.  In the New Testament, God showed the people how to relate to an unseen God by sending His only Son to be one of us. From the time of the Apostles (Pentecost) until now, God gave us the power to his people to transform the world by doing what Christ taught us to others. What we do is called good works because they come from God, not us.

We become the real presence of God in this world of original sin, using the power of God through the Holy Spirit, to make all things new. To do that without being corrupted by the sins of the world, we need to constantly throw ourselves on the mercy of God, asking forgiveness first for our own sins and then the sins of all, daily confessing our the need for humility and obedience, and finally doing penance to sustain us in our resolve to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5)

Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was and who will be at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. -Cistercian doxology

%d bloggers like this: