Just Breath

22 01 2011

Now I think there is only one subject worth my attention

and that is the recognition of the spiritual side of the world

and, within this recognition, the condition of my own spiritual

state. I am not talking about having faith necessarily, although

one hopes to. What I mean by spirituality is not theology, but attitude.

Mary Oliver, Winter Hours

(Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999)

In his book, God of Dirt: Mary Oliver and the other Book of God (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), Thomas W. Mann talks about natural spirituality – “how one relates to the natural world as the realm of God.” (p. 11) He then reminds us that the word spirit – at its root – has the primary meaning of “wind” or “breath.” Mann goes on to point out the interdependence of humans and the natural world; especially between humans and plants – one breathing out carbon dioxide that the other takes in as life, then the other exhaling oxygen…life for the one.

The realm of relationship with God is the same – breathing in God’s Spirit…God’s breath-giving life. And then exhaling our gratefulness; our expectant hearts’ deires; our questions; our inner quietness…listening again for God’s life-giving wind that blows in and through us. In this sacred relationship there is an ongoing conversation between the Spirit and our spirit. And like in any conversation, we learn that listening is at the heart…intentional focus on the One who is speaking. At listening’s foundation is trust and an active waiting – a trust which is a letting go…a patience that is open to and expectant of hearing God’s voice within living life. It is looking into God’s eyes and not looking beyond God’s gaze to the next thing.

Often my spiritual breathing is labored with no clear rhythm. I try to control the natural exchange of Spirit to spirit. My spirit’s knuckles become white from the firm grip I exert – trying to hold on to expectations…trying to hold everything in my mind – not giving heed to the heart. I hold my breath thinking I can sustain life on my own. But just as a deepening relationship is a process, so is the process of “letting go” – of not laboring after every breath…of trusting the natural rhythm…of learning to be open to God…to just be. The grace and good news is that we do not have to do this alone. God reminds us of the natural heart-to-heart that takes place in every day living with the One who gives life. The key is to let our breathing happen naturally – not rushed…not controlled …just being patient. For in the patience, in the waiting, in the listening, conversion happens – a little more Light shines within…we see a little more clearly through the dimmed glass… we feel our hearts begin to change – they soften, feeling more deeply for those around us. Our grip loosens. We find our palms are face-up, ready to receive – ready for servanthood. Our vision changes – ego begins to fade to the background and compassion for all creation surfaces.

God encourages us…gently speaking with a longing for us to listen more deeply – to love more intimately. And when we find ourselves breathing harmful fumes of hate, rage, manipulation, revenge, self-loathing, and passive-aggressiveness…when we are distracted by ego or by the world’s expectations, God’s breath whispers, “I am coming to you,” gently calling us back to the natural, holy breathing of Spirit to spirit.

God help us to just breath…





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