Published with permission given to Jeanne Wall from Joyce Rupp
Reflection – June 2019
…Right now you are doing something that you are probably unaware of, and yet if you were not doing it, you would die instantly. You are breathing. Each moment your lungs are giving you life. Stop for a moment and notice how this happens for you. The air you breathe is filled with oxygen. It sustains your life. You cannot survive without it. And every breath of carbon dioxide you exhale gives life to the world of vegetation.
What a magnificent rhythm exists: the give and receive, in and out, back and forth, a unity of silent kinship with everything. Savannas in Africa, rainforests in Australia, flowers in Europe, vegetable gardens in Canada, rice paddies in India, hanging vines in the Amazon—they are giving us life at this very moment as their oxygenated breath circles the planet and comes to us. We give them life in return with every exhalation from our precious lungs.
We are never alone, always in relationship with everyone and everything—breathing in and breathing out, joining and rejoining, receiving and releasing. Scientists assure us that the air we breathe into our lungs has circulated through the ages. We are breathing in the air our ancestors inhaled, the breath of Jesus and all who have gone before us. We are joined in this universal breath sustaining our existence.
We enter into life on this planet with our first breath and leave physically with our last breath. The book of Genesis describes the Creator giving humans physical life: “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;” Jesus brings peace, unity, and spiritual vigor to his disciples: “he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Physical breath. Spiritual breath. First breath. Last breath. We are breathing creatures, indeed.
In More Together Than Alone,Mark Nepo writes, “The Maori, indigenous people of New Zealand, have a custom of sharing their breath. They touch noses and take in each other’s breathing and in this nonverbal way, affirm that their lives are connected. They do this every time they meet and leave each other. In sharing their breath, the Maori entrain their hearts and find their common rhythm.”
While most of us are not touching noses and sharing our breath like the Maoris do, we can be deliberate about uniting with others through our breathing. Many forms of meditation encourage using our breath. Here is one way:
Place your hands on your chest or below your heart (diaphragm) feel the movement of breath. Breathe in / breathe out. Enter into the natural, flowing rhythm. Breathe in oxygen, essential for existence, the unseen gift of life. Breathe out carbon dioxide, offer it as your gift for other forms of life. Breathe in communion, union, kinship with the Holy One, your spiritual Breath. Then breathe out this quality of kindness, caring, and compassion to the world. Now breathe out these gifts of spiritual life and love to yourself; next, breathe these gifts out to a loved one, and again, to the wider world.