"How do we live a life worthwhile of our breath?"
- Ocean Vuong, poet, novelist, professor
This morning as I walked in our beautiful Colorado sunshine, I listened to Vietnamese American poet and novelist, Ocean Vuong, as he was interviewed by Krista Tippet on her podcast, On Being. I was not familiar with him or with his work before today. He is a young man of amazing intellect and insight, creativity and sensitivity. The podcast is definitely worth a listen! Such a rich conversation about how language makes our lives, sets the tone and parameters for our values, creates our world. Recorded this past March just before the pandemic shut-down, you would think Vuong and Tippet were conversing just yesterday in the midst of the two pandemics we are living with now, Covid-19 and the much older, Covid-1619, or the systemic racism our country has had since its beginning.
Vuong reflected on his Buddhist practice of “death meditation,” a practice in which one meditates on the impermanence of life, the inevitability of death and our fear of dying. Vuong spoke of the vitality this meditation practice brings to his life and to his creativity. It brings him to the question, “How do we live a life worthwhile of our breath?”
A life worthwhile of our breath…this phrase can take us so many places. To Genesis 1 where the world was created as the Spirit of God “breathed” upon the waters of the deep bringing forth life. To the automatic breathing that keeps us alive without our thinking consciously about it. To the concentration on our breath that can slow and calm our minds and hearts in meditation and prayer. To George Floyd’s last cry, “I can’t breathe!” Breath is life. Breath is sacred. What will we create in the breath of our life? “How do we live a life worthwhile of our breath?”
It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the grief of our times. I feel it everyday. The grief of illness and unemployment, the grief of mourning for loved ones, the grief of injustice. Our first instinct as human beings in the face of such overwhelm is to push away the pain and find what to DO. Yet spiritual teachers of all traditions call us first to BE and even to be with the pain. We cannot change a troubled situation, a tragic systemic injustice, or offer change to another hurting person unless we have allowed ourselves to be changed first. Change begins with us.
Tedious as it may seem, the change for justice, the healing of enmities, the transformation of minds and hearts for loving one another, all these begin with allowing our selves, our souls, to be transformed by God’s love. We begin by accepting the love of God and welcoming it into our very bodies. We slow down for at least some moments of each day to Breathe. To consciously let in the Breath of Life acknowledging it comes from Love and will heal our overwhelmed souls; then breathing out the Breath of Life knowing only Love can heal the world.
I challenge you to practice breathing this way five minutes each day. See where it might lead you in living a life worthwhile of your life-giving breath. Concentrate on your breathing, on Love, not on what you want to change when your five minutes is over. Allow the Spirit to transform your nervous, anxious thoughts, your feelings of not being enough or doing enough. Just Breathe in Love. Pause and let it be in you. Then Breath out Love and trust God is ahead of you in the work for justice and healing our world needs. Pause and trust. Then Breathe again. Just BE in the Breath of Life. For five minutes. See what happens for the rest of your day. (And, of course, you can always repeat when needed!)
“How do we live a life worthwhile of our breath?”
With you in hope on this pandemic journey!
P.S. If you want more information on meditation/breath prayer practices, please let one of your pastors know. We have lots of resources. One place to begin is WeRiseNow.org, a site for Christian meditation practice that provides daily emails with a recorded guided meditation practice. One of the founders, the Rev. Dr. Robert Martin, is a dear friend of mine.
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Read more