I have written before on the idea of the ancient art of breathing.
We breath in when we receive from God, and we breath it out in the world.
It is a wonderful image as links the cycle of life and our dependence on Oxygen with our spiritual existence.
Indeed it resonates with that wonderful image in creation where human life itself is started by the breath of God animating humanity from the dust of the earth.
The name of God, too Holy to say in the Jewish culture was often spelled ‘YHWH’, an unpronounceable word, but best described as an exhalation of breath.
A staggering thought to think that God is known by the lungs of his creation breathing out. In fact one of the names by which the person of the Holy Spirit is known is as “the breath of God”, “O breath of God come breath within”.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit in the Greek is a continuous tense “go on be being filled” -keep on breathing. In a world where I feel deflated, reminding that the breath of God, his Spirit can reflate us.
An image I find fascinating within this imagery is that we cannot contain God within us by holding our breath (if we did we would simply pass out), I love this image of God’s proclamation refusing to be contained within the limitation of our lungs.
Indeed there is enough life in our breath to resuscitate someone back to life, and yet if we simply continued to breathing out we would soon be gasping for air and pass out.
Healthy breathing receives from God and gives it away.
My grandfather would speak of going forward at a Billy Graham crusade in 1952, yet didn’t seem to progress from there onwards. Too often we characterise Christianity as ‘praying the prayer’ -taking a saving breath- rather than living a life of ongoing and habitual “yes” to God.
I had a wonderful Student with me in Kingswood, Denise Adide, who talked about a spirituality of overflow, where what we have received from God spills out of us, and yet too often in my own spiritual life I feel as though I am scraping the barrel of a spiritual desert.
In a recent book Emotionally healthy leadership the author Pete talks of the problem of exhaustion of “doing more activity for God than their relationship can sustain… chronically over-extended”.
A challenge to stop and take a breath.
Indeed when I have become over anxious, excited or angry there are times when I have had to stop and take a breath -and the times I haven’t I have normally regretted later.
The problem is in the West we can fall victim to either a consumerist mentality where gorge ourselves on the vast array of spiritual opportunities, or we fall victim to the Martha -or even martyr- complex where we feel too busy to stop and breath. I would suggest -to totally mix my metaphors- that we need to see ourselves as tight-rope walkers, living in the tension between the pull of consumer Christianity and the pull of Martha martyrdom -you yourself will know which side you are most vulnerable too.
Interestingly when I shared this image at a Church weekend away the Rector talked about her husbands’ Fathers’ of being in a deep sea diving bell in Portsmouth where they are deeply submerged and have to reach the top of this bell by gradually swimming upwards releasing the air from their lungs. If someone was struggling they had to punch them in the stomach to help them breath out.
Perhaps God is saying we need a punch in the stomach to release the oxygen within us?
Or perhaps we need to gasp inwards more oxygen and let our breathing regulate and find a pattern that it was intended?
And lastly, another picture, when my wife was in hospital giving birth she was on gas and air, when we are in pain, sometimes we need to breath more deeply from God and yet often it becomes something we neglect. Perhaps there is pain in your life and you need to come to God and inhale deeply.
So, how is your breathing?