Breath is a funny thing. It is at once the most physical thing we can do and also profoundly spiritual. On the one hand, we are born knowing how to do it. And on the other, the teaching of how to do it properly occurs not only in every religious tradition, but also in secular meditatiob practices.
Breathing has this special importance in my life, lately. On both the spiritual and physical levels.
I suffer a combination of asthma and allergies that gets brutal under certain weather conditions. It has been bad enough to lead to ambulances, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations. I don’t need to bore you with the details of my ailments. But I would like to tell you about how this feels.
Even when my symptoms aren’t acute enough to merit doctors’ care, it can take over my life. For about a month each year, it gets to a point that it is exhausting to make it through the day. Around the time the sun is setting, I am ready to collapse. This is mostly because of the physical toll it takes on me, just catching my breathe through out the day.
Especially during these times, there is this fear. It is terrible, to be on the verge of not catching your breath. Many of us have had the wind knocked out of us; or we have been holding our breath, swimming underwater perhaps. Have you ever got to that point where you rationally know that you will be able to catch your breath, but there is this panic, lurking just beneath, this fear that you try to push away that you just won’t be able to fill your lungs?
There are times that this becomes a viscous circle, and it is this incredible act of will to just slow down, work slowly. If your lungs always work, I am not sure if you can understand how difficult this is. Because when I am healthy, I know that when I just stop and slow down, I force my lungs to be efficient as I take these deep breaths. When I am not well, this slowing down is only half the solution. Even deep, abdominal breaths are only a little bit nourishing, there is this sense of something like betrayal from my body.
Please believe I am not looking for pity or trying to compare my burdens with yours. There are a hundred kinds of suckiness in the world and it is a fool’s errand to try and rate and compare them.
I am trying to set the stage. I want you to understand what happened on Sunday.
Sunday, I was at church. Struggling to breathe.
I asked God to do something new, to show up in some way he had not before. I was a little depressed. (Partially, I think, because of the breathing stuff. Chronic physical challenges just get so old!) I gathered up what faith I had and gave it up to God. I don’t have this sense that I had this huge quantity of faith (probably about a mustard seed’s worth…) I do have this sense that I worked with all the faith I did have at that time.
My head started to feel warm, in a good way, as I was singing. As I exhaled these deep, long breaths (deeper, and longer than I should have been able to!) I had this sense of exhaling something… bad. Unhealthy. Gross. I was so glad to have it out of me.
I could sing! Well, actually, the people around me would probably dispute that. But they would certainly agree that I got louder. I could breathe.
In the 3 days before church, I had taken over 30 puffs of my rescue inhaler. Since Sunday? An average of 2 a day. My breathing is not perfect. But it is way better than it should have been.
I am a pretty educated guy. I understand the placebo effect. I have babbled quite a bit about the emotional connection to breathing here. And all of this is part of it.
But it is not all of it. It doesn’t make any sense to me. And this is frustrating. There are lots of things I have prayed intensely for and it doesn’t seem like much is happening. I did not specifically pray about my breathing that morning… And suddenly it was better.
The funny thing is that I am so convinced it is a God-thing that I am interested in sharing this awesome happening, but I don’t remotely have an interest in debating it. May as well try to convince me that the sky isn’t blue.
There are lots of things that might be said about all this. I don’t get it at all. I guess the thing I am thinking about, most, though, is that it is December 22nd as I write this. And the thing about Christmas that has just been on my heart, this year, is how part of the message is that God comes into the world in these crazy ways; he storms into our physicality and flips a script in the places we were so sure it was just going to be more of the same old, same old.
What about you? Where are your stories of God showing up in unexpected ways, healing ways? Where are the places that you’re struggling, that you feel like God is supposed to show, and he just hasn’t yet?