Every Breath You Take

I used to think that the pattern of life-death-resurrection was powerful because it only happened once.

I am learning that the reason it is powerful is because it never stops happening.

The life of summer, and the death of fall and winter, leading back to the rebirth of spring.  The life of the day, leading into the death of night, back into the resurrection of dawn.  The life of our hopes, leading to the death of our dreams, and somehow, after a dark time, we begin to hope again.  The life as the Greek City States, and then their defeat in the Peloponnesian Wars, and then a sort-of resurrection of their beliefs in ideas in the Roman Empire.  The life of the a person, inevitably leading to their death, and yet the person lives on.  In an afterlife, I suspect, but regardless of all that, they live in the people they impacted, they live in because when they die the people who they once supported now take the roles that they had.

And perhaps more of all:

The life of inhaling.  The Death of exhalation.  And the resurrection because then it all begins again.  There is such power in our breathing!  Not only is our every breath an act of saying the unsayable name of God: also, every breathe is a reenactment of life, death, and resurrection; it points to the countless cycles that occur everywhere look, but most of all, it points at the cross of Jesus.

I have asthma.  And I hate it and it sucks.  But asthma is a teacher.  If I had never desperately fought for a breath, I think I wouldn’t know to value them so much.  If you have never had to fight to breathe in this way, I bet you can remember some time in your life when somebody got you just right, hit you perfectally in the solar plexus.  Do you remember the abject terror of having the air forced out of you, the terrifying fear that your lungs will never work again?

I think this all puts me in touch with something.  There is this moment, between the inhale and exhale.  Between every inhale and exhale.  It is a moment of death and terror.  It is a moment of emptiness.  It is a moment for me to hang dead on the cross.  I experience it hundreds of times a day.  And I think mostly I repress just how horrible it is.

But when we bring our attention to our breath, we are fighting this repression.  When we bring our attention to our breathe, we are being born, and dying, and then being reborn in evey single breath.  We are being crucified, killed, and reborn with Jesus, with every single breath.

Today, perhaps you would like to sit and meditate and breathe.  Some people find it helpful to touch a finger with a thumb with each breath: that tactile stimulation, of breathing and touching the pointer finger, then breathing again and touching the middle finger, and breathing again and touching the ring finger, and breathing again and touching the pinkie, and then going to the other hand…  Maybe you would like to give that a try today.

As you breathe, perhaps it is best if you think of nothing at all.  But perhaps you will think of Jesus: living, dying, and being reborn, with each breath you take.


1: Towers

The whole first half of my life might be characterized by building.

I spent a long time building lots of different things: a career, a family, an  identitiy.  This identity was built up largely by building up my place within easily defined groups: liberal, teacher, parent.  

My beliefs were built up, too.  I might begin with a certain idea… Perhaps the idea that there is A God.  When I look around, I realize that this idea needs some support.  If there is a God, then evil must exist because of…  (Fill in the explanation here.  I am sure you’ve heard all the arguments, regardless of whether any of them work for you.)  Eventually, in order to make this explanation for the presence of evil work, I will add something else on.

Building is hard-wired into us, I guess.  There is this symbolic building that is the task of the first half of our lives.  And then, there is the literal building:   I am remembering playing with blocks as a toddler.    I would build these structures up.  

With both kinds of building, there seems to be a pattern.   In the beginning, it is easy to make a tower stronger and bigger at the same time.  But there comes this point when our structures are as solid as they are going to get.  The more we add, the weaker they become.

Freud said we have this death urge: sometimes we go charging straight at our own certain demise.  I wonder if this is connected to the idea that we just keep building our towers after we know we should stop.  Little kids are not so different than the architects of the tower of babel, I suspect.  Somewhere, deep inside I knew that these towers of  belief I was constructing were getting pretty unstable.  But still  we say “Bigger!  More!”

The idea that it would come crashing down was as terrifying as it was inevitable.  I lived in such stark denial.  So many towers came down, smashing into each other like so many giant dominoes.  I am stilling walking in the wreckage.  But I kind of like it down here.

It is quiet, here.  It is calm.  It is peaceful.  On a good day.  

I am realizing how very noisy my life was.  It was noisy because some of that building required efficiency, and multi-tasking, and trying to do lots of things at once.  It was noisy because there was some part of me that new what was coming.  Busyness and noise blocked it all out.

Have you ever fallen in love with the silence?  That is where I am now.

It begins with eliminating unnecesary and artificial sounds.  Turning off the music, podcasts, and movies, sometimes.  Cutting off the chatter sometimes.  

It is about the schedule.  Simplifying.  Realizing that there is a universe of difference between loving people and feeling like I have to please them.

It is about having the courage to sit.  Standing up to the fears that I have been trying to run away from.  Staring down the idea that I am required to justify myself through productivity.  Conquering the fear that I am missing out.

I think that you ought to do that, right now:  Just go somewhere and sit.  Grab yourself a drink of something cool, while you do it.  Close your eyes if you want to.

My life is better than it used to be.  And this is the biggest reason why.  Because I have learned a thing that my ancestors knew so well: it is important to stop, sometimes.  It is important to sit.

There are things that make this easier, in some ways.  Things like watching the breath.  Things like calmly naming fears, distractions, and thoughts.  There lots of good things to be said about these bells and whistles.  

But I would like to challenge you to put these aside, for now.  If you know a little something about meditation, or a lot about meditation, would you put it aside?  Just go somewhere and sit.  Sit for longer than you’d want to.  Sit for longer than makes sense.  

It may be miserable at first.  It might not even seem worth it the first several times you do it.  But in the same way that you might do it for longer than you’d want to, I want to challenge you to do it more often than you’d want to.  There will come a point that it becomes it’s own reward, it becomes a self sustaining thing…  Unless, of course it doesn’t.  And then, what do you have to lose?  The time?  I am starting to think all the things you would have done in that time aren’t as important as you were telling yourself anyway.