Fresh Air

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?



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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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