This last Saturday we gathered at the Mustard Seed House for our first Lenten retreat ever. We began with an exercise in breathing, adapting several of the prayers from Return to Our Senses, as a process that drew us into the love of our creator God. This exercise became the focus of my own reflections during the rest of the retreat and continues to shape my thoughts as I journey through Lent.
Good breathing habits do not come naturally to most adults. A baby’s torso expands like a balloon with each breath. Her belly puffs up, and her ribs swing out. It’s efficient, it’s effortless, and you can’t help but relax while watching her. But somewhere through the years we lose this ability. Stress, physical tension, chronic pain, insomnia, and even the constricting clothes we wear, transform us from powerful belly breathers into shallow chest gaspers. We need to be taught to breathe properly again.
One question that rose to the surface during the retreat is: What does the breath of God look like for you? One person mentioned the ocean, the surge of water crashing onto the beach and then being sucked back into the vast expanse created a wonderful image of the breath of God for her. Having spent twelve years of my life living on a ship on the ocean, this resonated with me too. Lying on my bed surrounded by the lapping of water on the hull is a very soothing experience. Imagining that sound as the breath makes it even more profound.
Another question we grappled with is: What constricts or diminishes the breath of God? What comes to my mind is pollution which I think is an affront to God. On Saturday, however we talked about other confining influences that prevent us breathing in the breath of God to our full capacity. Anything that restricts the freedom of the spirit in our lives diminishes the breath of God within us.
Interestingly, generally speaking, women use less of their lung capacity then men do. High heel shoes, corsets and other constricting clothing diminish our ability to take a deep breath. Spiritually too women are often more restricted then men. Their God given abilities are often confined by regulations that prevent them fully expressing or breathing out, the gifts God has placed within them.
Breathing is at the core of who we are both as physical and spiritual beings. So as you continue your journey through Lent, stop and reflect – when was the last time you took a full deep breath of the love of God and when was the last time you breathed that out in compassion and care into our world?