by Laurie Klein
“He was looking at the clay. He had his ear to it. He was listening.
‘It is breathing,’ he said; and then he filled it with air.”
Guest potter Robert Turner was demonstrating his craft; Professor M.C. Richards was observing his actions.
We are invited into the scene. Does it remind you of God forming Adam from the dust of the earth? Picture that perfectly balanced—yet inert—body of clay.
Now, see it enlivened. With divine breath.
Have you ever bowed over a potter’s wheel, your overlapped palms a wet cradle for one spinning mound of clay? My repeated attempts, in a college class, repeatedly failed. Talk about ungainly.
The skilled potter makes it look easy. Natural. However, the secret of shaping and filling a readied vessel eluded me.
In pottery, as in spiritual practice, the art of centering precedes responsive creating. One aspect of centering requires marrying effort with bodily rhythms.
“You can experience relatedness at the most elementary level,” my fervent professor said. “Remain conscious, present to the moment. Align each exertion with your inhale and exhale.”
Sounds so zen. So holistic. Harrumph.
Show me the rookie who can simultaneously monitor her breathing while handling gloppy mud—seemingly bent on resisting human control.
Today, recalling those early lessons, I glimpse something new . . .
I imagine being a rookie guest, once again, at the potter’s wheel. I think about acts of creation and the cyclical world of the creation that surrounds us. I remember my next inhale is linguistically linked with the verb “inspire.” Go on, I tell myself: take a deep one, right now, alert to the wonder of oxygenating muscles, tissues, cells.
Do I pause often enough these days to exult in the pulse that makes me kin with all other life-serving entities?
No. So, why not?
Trouble is, we’ve taught ourselves to ration breath. We’ve trained ourselves to preserve physical distance from others to safeguard health.
It might take deliberate effort to again marvel that the air we breathe was recently used by another being and will soon be taken in, yet again, by someone else.
Shared air has taken on the taint of fear.
Yet God sustains our precious atmosphere. Call to mind the generosity of oxygen’s availability. Let’s once again choose to trust—and feast on—this miracle.
Breath can be more than a mechanical endeavor, invisibly ghosting below our level of awareness.
Our next breath can be an intentional ingesting of essential Life: a presence, a guesting, a gift.
Will we open anew to the in-and-out ways breathing cocoons and empowers body, spirit, and psyche?
How will we re-enter the body’s natural gateway to healing stillness via lungs and the ever- pumping heart?
St. Hesychios the Priest, from the Eastern Christian tradition, advises one means to accomplish
this. “Let the name of Jesus adhere to your breath, and then you will know the blessings of stillness.”
In response, I created a breath prayer, set to my personal rhythm of inhale and exhale. Each phrase takes two full measures of a 3-count beat—1, 2, 3 / 4, 5, 6 / 1, 2, 3 / 4, 5, 6—like a slow waltz. You might try keeping time with your fingers, at first.
(inhale) Holy One . . . (exhale) commune with me
Perfect Love . . . suffuse me
Light of Life . . . illumine me
Three-in-one . . . I, in Thee
Here am I . . . use me.
Prayerfully syncing words like these with my breath becomes triply intimate.
Dear fellow vessels of clay, let’s remain supple in the Potter’s hands, given to the cadence of life thrumming within and around us. This is union. A sacred communion.
And as we rest into this practice, breath by breath, may we better serve our Creator. Amen.
Are you yearning to Dig Deeper? Perhaps you are looking for refreshment in your contemplative practices or for creativity in prayer. Christine Sine’s latest book is packed full of contemplative wisdom and inspiration for creating your own meditative focus. Click for more details!