The Fifty Breaths Devotion
By Phillip Garside
“Breath in the cookies and blow out the candles.”
When our children were very young and tantrum-prone, this was the technique that we used to help them to recenter. Breathing is a natural rhythm that accompanies us our entire life. Like sanctifying grace, it works constantly, steadily, and almost completely unnoticed to keep us alive. But also, like sanctifying grace, if one can learn to notice its operation one can consciously develop use of it in their life.
For very young children, helping them focus on breathing can become a life skill as a calming technique, as a spiritual center of prayer and ultimately a parent can develop it into a catechetical technique.
The beads of the rosary can be an extremely effective tool for very young children to practice noticing their breathing by consciously counting breaths on each bead. This Fifty Breaths Devotion can be engaging if they are too young to know the prayers, don’t quite have the attention for a full rosary or even for a teen who misguidedly believes repetitive prayer is “pointless.” Parents can also use this technique if their family culture finds verbal communal prayer awkward or comical.
This technique only requires the silence of breath, 10 short followed by a large, as you progress through the beads. It may allow you to be with God and each other in a disciplined way suited to your needs thereby habituating your family to praying together. In terms of pedagogy, the Fifty Breaths Devotion can neutralize aversion to imposed “organized religion,” because it is an easy sell to remind a child or a teen that your breath is in a very personal way “your life.” To focus on it helps you be grateful for your life.
This can then subtly pivot to gratitude toward God over time. Lastly, the Fifty Breaths Devotion can be a gateway to other chaplets and the rosary, itself, for a child who otherwise may not have been willing to try such devotions.
The Hebrew word rauch means breathe and spirit. “Breathe in the Spirit, breathe out the Spirit” can be a mantra that synchronizes completely with the liturgy, in how we receive the body of Christ and offer our bodies or hear the gospel and “go forth and spread the Gospel.” “Breathe in the Spirit, breathe out the Spirit.”