The God who Breathes

Moving and settling into the New Year, God has been speaking to me about breathing. It seems fitting considering the exceptionally cold winter this year. It’s hard to ignore the winter breath that escapes when I walk outside!

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While one might assume that life is all about choices, the miracle that is our respiratory system disagrees. This is what fascinates me about breathing. It’s is an involuntary response to life. We don’t choose to breathe, but it’s necessary for our survival. Not only that, the nuances of our breath, or breathing patterns, can be evidence of our state of mind or physical well being. For example, in this cold weather breathing can be challenging with congested sinuses. I also find breathing challenging any time I attempt a light afternoon jog! Perhaps this is evidence my physical state could use some improvements.

Though breathing is an involuntary response to life, external and internal factors affect it. Consider the impact of emotions. We experience a rapid rate of breath when fear /adrenaline / anxiety / stress kick in. Or, when we’re in a state of calm, peace, and spiritual rest, our breathing slows and deepens. These are extreme references and other physiological variables play a role, but studies show that respiration is altered by all sorts of emotions. Conversely, studies also indicate that we can alter our emotions by adjusting our breathing patterns.

I learned the impact of breathing from Buddhists monks in Nepal. I was working with a missionary family who had an outreach to Tibetan Buddhists. To better understand Buddhism, we took an immersion course in Buddhism at a lovely monastery. My intent for this course was to learn how to communicate with Buddhists and bridge the gap to Christ. It was an incredible experience and I had many powerful encounters with Jesus. We would spend hours sitting on little pillows practicing meditation and breathing. Through these exercises I learned how to quiet my body and my mind through intentional breathing. I learned how to focus. I learned how to step into my “prayer closet” and into stillness amidst the chaos around me.

God has been reminding me of this kind of intentional breathing; of the value of breathing with Him, at His pace, instead of my own. Yes, our God breathes.

There are two significant moments relayed in scripture of God breathing. The first is in the beginning. In Genesis 2:7:

Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

The second significant occurrence of God breathing is after Jesus declared, “It is finished.” In His resurrected state, he appears to the disciples. We read in John 20:21-22 (emphasis mine):

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

As evidenced in both of these passages of Scripture, when God breathes, life is birthed. He breathes peace within us. And with peace, we have authority over our emotions and our response to life’s circumstances. I believe that we are intended to breathe that peace, power, authority, and life into the world. Into ourselves as well as others.

That God breath – just like our natural breath – is always with us. God is ever present in the most intimate of ways. There is an element of intimacy to breathing. Think about how near God must have been to the first person to breath life into him. Or how near Jesus was to the disciples when He released the Holy Spirit. God is as near as our breath.

There’s an Old Testament passage — 1 Kings 19:1-12 — that I often run to when stress is high and I’m out of breath. When the mountain of tasks seems to overwhelm. When the chaos around me feels unrelenting and I begin to retreat into the darkness of negativity. In those moments, I remember Elijah on Mount Horeb. To put it in context, Elijah is on the run. He’s just witnessed God bring fire from heaven marking a great victory. God is clearly with him! Yet, a mortal threat against his life sends him packing. He’s fearful and tired and just wants to hide. Eventually, he finds himself holed up in a cave. I’ve been in that cave of negative thoughts and emotions. It’s a dark place. This is where Elijah found Himself. It is also where he found God.

I’m comforted by the words of St. Porphyrios, “Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter and the darkness will disappear.”

God made himself known to Elijah in the cave and said, “What are you doing in here? I’m not in here. Come to where I am.” Or as Jesus said centuries later, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden.”

Elijah then has a revelation in God’s invitation. This is captured in verses 11-12. If you’ll allow me some interpretive license:

Elijah saw a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking the rocks. It was chaos around him. An absence of control. “Don’t focus on the storm. I’m not in the wind.” And after the wind, Elijah experienced an earthquake. The ground unsettled beneath his feet and his foundation rocked. His direction was lost. “Don’t focus on the earthquake. I’m not in the earthquake.” After the earthquake a fire ignited. It was overwhelming and destructive like those all-consuming negative thoughts. “Don’t focus on the fire. I’m not in the fire.”  And after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. “Focus here. I am the gentle blowing. The still small voice. The whisper in your ear. The intimate breath on your face.”

Breathe with Me. Breathe as I breathe. Breathe Me in. Breathe out Life.

If we breathe out what we breathe in, then breathe deeply of the Lord. Lift your eyes with every inhale. See the miracles of life around you as you exhale. Then, breathe deeper.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)

Who I am

67639I’d like to say that I don’t know how it happens. How I wake up one morning heavy under the weight of my past which slows my body and mind. But I do know how it happens. One day at a time. One negative thought at a time. Before I realize it I can barely move through the mud and muck of former actions and decisions. Sin. With sin, comes shame. With shame, comes a cycle of self defeating thoughts and eventual paralysis of the spirit.

Over the last few days I’ve been meditating on this cycle that impacts me so deeply mentally, physically, and spiritually. My beautiful, amazing, and inspiring partner reminded me that I have an arsenal of truth and power to battle negative thoughts and memories. I’m amazed how often I forget the power I wield. But I have a Helper, the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, who reminds me of my peace, my position, and my power. I know who I am and I’m learning—remembering—who God says I am.

In a pit of negativity and subconscious thought, I spoke the need to atone for the sins of a past long gone. As this lie slipped from lips, I had an immediate encounter with Jesus. I have already atoned for your sin. Embrace what I have already done.

Truth brings freedom and freedom inspires worship and unhindered movement mentally, physically, and spiritually. Today, I remember how loved I am. I remember who I am and to Whom I belong. My sin, my past is forgotten. I am safe, whole, pure, and full of life magnificent! I am a daughter of God. The daughter of a Lion. The daughter of Love.

Until I Enter the Sanctuary of God

 

There are times, as Asaph describes in Psalm 73, that I am a beast before God. Times when my heart is embittered with the world; when I am senseless and ignorant. Lost in my circumstance, I allow my emotions and thoughts to rule. Deeper and deeper I dig into the mud. Sometimes, my humanity is comfortable in the muck and despair. But it is not my home and I do not belong there. Sometimes it seems like a long journey home, but then I remember that home is not far. On the contrary, it is nearer than I can describe. Below is an image of my journey home from the storm.

I am in the storm. Overwhelmed by what is around me. In the chaos, my eye focuses on what I can see. On the temporary as opposed to the eternal. All strength leaves me as my heart becomes entrenched in despair. Shouting voices entice me toward the darkness. Accusing and pulling me in every direction. Pulling me downward. I am drowning in the wind and the rain, barely able to see the path before me. Does anyone see me?

Tired, weak, on my knees, crawling, covered in the grime of a kingdom that is not my own, I keep going knowing there is more. There is something or someone I have forgotten. There must be a way out. A way to shelter. Fighting the storm, I find myself at a door of decision. I know this door. I know to Whom it belongs.

Will He let me in? Do I knock? Will He recognize me as His own? Has He forgotten me? My King?

And then, I remember. I remember His promises. I remember His caress.  I long to be His and rest in His arms again. The choice is mine. Already on my knees, I bow my broken heart. I lift my arm to push open the door, but before I can, it swings open wide. The wind of Life blows over me pushing back the storm. I am in calm. His gentle eyes look upon me as He stoops to where I am. In His warm embrace, He carries me across the threshold into the sanctuary of God.

And then…Peace. I am lifted and strengthened. My vision restored. My heart softened. Faith fills me. The Divine consumes me. Cleans me. I am in safety. My perspective of all things changes. Hope and peace return; though truthfully, they never left me.

When I enter the sanctuary, I come home to the Presence of God and remember who I am. Beloved, eternally. I remember that “I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:23-26).

Until I enter the sanctuary of God, I am lost. Afraid. Confused. Blind. The cruelty and wickedness of the world frustrate me. The suffering of the innocent confounds me. The rejection unbearable. The isolation too much. But the sanctuary is not far; nor does it ever leave me. In truth, the sanctuary is always with me. It is within me. I need only close my eyes and say His name for He is never more than a whisper away. “The nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works” (Psalms 73:28).

Healing Salve

Anger, O anger, why so near?
You boil to my surface.
Hot.
Threatening to spill over.

I do not call out to God, my Peace.
I call to my fury.
I feed the beast that hides my pain.
Patient God, how much longer will you wait?

I do not call out to God, my Healer.
I am blinded by the steam.
Drawn in. On the edge.
Will I fall in?

I hear a quiet voice alongside me.
My faithful God,
Blowing gently on my hurt,
Binding my wounds.

I reach for the familiarity of the burn.
He whispers again, “Let it go.”
The soul-binding blanket of anger slips away.
My sight restored.

There I am, on the pinnacle of God’s grace,
His breath on my face.
I draw deeper into His Presence.
Stillness, at last.

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This is my attempt to capture a sweet vision of God’s healing salve. We wrestled last night over my anger. O, to be human and in pursuit!! I am thankful He is so much stronger than I! In my mind’s eye, God lifted me from the heat of anger that had captured me and set me gently on a peak. There, the anger fell away – fell into oblivion. Only He remained. It was just the 2 of us. Freedom.