By Donna Chacko—
“For the spirit of God made me,
the breath of the Almighty keeps me alive”.
Nestled on the couch, I watched the fire dying low. I finally dragged myself from my cozy nest and opened the fireplace screen doors. I nudged the logs, rolling one over, and creating a little space between the logs. I didn’t even have to blow on the logs because very quickly the flames started rising, first flickering and then twisting higher until all the logs were blazing. What a vivid demonstration of how just a little more access to oxygenated air can inflame a fire.
As a doctor I saw how important oxygen is. We pay very close attention to the oxygen level in the blood, especially for very sick patients. We are all sadly aware of the catastrophic results a prolonged low oxygen level, known as hypoxia, can have on a human brain. Fortunately, we can often add supplemental oxygen if needed during a major illness or a chronic lung condition. This doesn’t cure the underlying problem, but it sustains life.
Athletes also pay close attention to their breathing. Even if they don’t specifically think about or measure their oxygen level, they are keenly aware of their breath. Breath control and breathing techniques are reported to increase performance. And, it’s not just in athletics. Breathing practices are well known and taught to enhance performance in public speaking, acting, and singing.
I was particularly fascinated to learn how stress is reduced by a form of breathing called deep belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing.
This type of breathing elicits physiologic changes in the body known as the “relaxation response. “ This reverses the “stress response,” which is the physiologic cascade of hormones and chemicals in the body that occur when our mind registers a threat. Most of us have personal experience with this relaxation response. Recall how it feels when you are tense or stressed and you slow yourself down enough to take a couple of slow deep breaths. You feel your body soften and your head clear.
I ponder the relation of breathing with a type of prayer known as Centering Prayer, a meditative prayer strongly based on Christian tradition. This prayer involves resting in the presence of God without words or feelings. When I practice Centering Prayer, I am aware of my in-breaths and out-breaths. Sometimes my mind wanders. I wonder—is it possible that my in-breaths are welcoming the spirit of God in and my out-breaths are expelling the detritus from my life?
Christine Sine’s Meditation Monday is a moving blog called Breathe in Yahweh, including a prayerful breathing meditation video. Yet another beautiful way to conceptualize breathing.
We value healthy air, like the fresh air from windows flung open on a spring day or a deep breath as we pause on a mountain trail or at the beach. Words like air, spirit, breath, breeze, and wind conjure up images of energy, power, cleanliness, and health. Nowhere do these words have more power than in the Bible, starting with Genesis.
Then the Lord God formed man out of the dust from the
ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living being. Genesis 2:7
So long as I still have life breath in me,
the breath of God in my nostrils. Job 27:3
The Psalms beautifully speak of the spirit.
By the LORD’s word the heavens were made;
by the breath of his mouth all their host. Psalms 33:6
Send forth your spirit, they are created
and you renew the face of the earth. Psalm 104:30
Finally, the New Testament:
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the holy Spirit”. John 20:22
We are still alive even if we ignore or close ourselves to the Holy Spirit. God is always within us, the ember of unconditional love. But we are certainly not living our God-given life to the fullest if we neglect that ember. I write this message for me as much as for you because I have neglected the Holy Spirit by praying predominately to God the Father and to Jesus. So, how can you and I let the Spirit in so the flames will burst high and wide?
We can give space and time to God and practice opening ourselves by listening, by waiting, and by relishing sacred silence. We can stand up tall, smile, and then take deep breaths so as to consciously draw in the Holy Spirit. Whether we do this in dedicated prayer time, walking, or while washing the dishes matters not. The Spirit is always ready for fire power.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle
in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created.
And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
I hope my words tickle your brain or your heart in some way that stir you to open yourself to the Spirit! It would be a joy to hear your story of being filled with the spirit.