"Breathe on me, breath of God: fill me with life anew,
that I may love as you have loved and do as you would do."
We sang this familiar hymn on Pentecost, May 31. Possibly we thought of ourselves as receiving the breath of the Holy Spirit, just as the disciples had so many years ago. Maybe we felt renewed in our faith, just a bit.
Yet 5 days earlier, George Floyd cried: "I can't breathe!" as he was being murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. Those words echoed the words of Eric Garner, also put in a choke hold and murdered by police, in July of 2014.
Where was the breath of God then? Where is God as we find our nation rocked yet again by protests and violence and death and, oh yes,....still that nasty virus? Why does God allow the horrendous affliction of racism to live on? I wish I could answer these questions. I have no idea why awful things happen to people we love, nor to people we don't love for that matter. Our mental health requires that sometimes we have to leave that question alone. Yet as I write this devotional, the question haunts me, and anxiety permeates the very air around me.
But, breathing. Essential to life. I can speak about breathing. Whew. There. Back on somewhat solid ground. I can, if I concentrate, breathe myself out of anxiety, at least to some extent.
I am a yogi, of sorts. In yoga, we speak of 'Prana', or breath. Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. Yogis practice various kinds of breathing, to various purposes. But the most important breath, the one we need the most and practice the most, is the deep, diaphragmatic breath. It requires just as much emphasis on the exhale as on the inhale. It involves the whole body, and, if done correctly, can calm our nervous systems and instill in us a few moments of peace.
From a recent story about breath on NPR: ’people with anxieties or other fear-based conditions typically will breathe way too much, and too shallowly. When this happens, you are constantly putting yourself into a state of stress. The way to change that is to breathe deeply. The diaphragm lowers, you're allowing more air into your lungs and your body immediately switches to a relaxed state.’
Friends, remember to breathe when you are anxious or afraid. Stop for 30 seconds and inhale, filling your lungs from the bottom up, allowing your diaphragm to lower; then slowly let it out, allowing your diaphragm to rise and push the air out of your lungs. Repeat. Again. Again. Again.
Holy one, help us to breathe out our anxiety and fear, and to breathe in new life for our work towards justice and peace in this troubled world.
(Here is a link to an article on breathing. Join Sara Tuesday mornings at 10:30 to breathe and practice yoga. Contact her for more info: email@example.com)