Monday, February 10, 2014

I will never breathe the same.

I'm falling behind on blogging, but I'm catching up on grading, and I'm still breathing :) You win some, you lose some, right?

On Friday, I ended my time at the first ever Washington State Sustainability Conference, and I was so relieved to check out of my hotel and attend the final day of workshops without anxiety looming over me: the fear of sleeping another night alone in the unfamiliar hotel room, on an unfamiliar street, in an unfamiliar city. My time at the conference was challenging for reasons I did not plan for, but most importantly, it was inspiring, and I learned a little bit about how to breathe. 

The lesson began on Thursday, when our opening speakers humbly approached the microphone with quiet voices, asking us to be thankful, to show gratitude to mother earth. Imagine, they prompted, all of the processes, systems, pieces, relationships she constitutes; breathe in slowly, and out slowly, and remember her for all she does to create oxygen for us to breathe. Give back, they urged, and they continued on to remind us that we all share the same air. The gift of air. The gift of now: a time to be alive, to breathe, and to do what is meant for us in this moment.

I spent the time with my eyes closed, thanking God for my fragile life. Thanking Him for speaking to me that morning, through anyone, at anytime, as He had been telling me He would do in weeks prior. As I was praying, I realized so clearly that my breath is not to be wasted: that it will come and go. Its repetition, its daily presence, its miraculous life-giving power should remind me that I can do more than merely breathe while I am here. That His plans for me extend beyond survival

Later in the day, in a workshop, we were asked to clear our laps, to remove our lenses, to silence our cell phones, and place our feet flat on the floor. To breathe in slowly, and out slowly. To focus only on the feeling of air passing through our nostrils, and to conquer all wandering thoughts and distractions as we narrow our focus, hone in on the sensation of air passing through. Sit up straight and breathe in slowly, and out slowly. Because it is calming, because it cultivates attentiveness, and because it opens up the mind for reflection and contemplation.

I'll admit: I twitched. My back hurt. My stomach groaned. But all the while, I breathed, and something about that impressed me: whether I could focus on it, or not. Whether I could calm myself to enjoy it, or not. Because I knew that, no matter my efforts and ability to be still, the God of Peace was as with me as the air that filled my lungs, and that made me smile as I failed.    

In another workshop, the speaker projected images of extinct species on the board at the front of the room. Close your eyes, she invited. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. She said that the air we breathe is air that these animals used to breathe, but will never breathe again. She told us in a soft voice to accept that. To be thankful for them. And to be thankful for all of the animals that are still here, who breathe the same air, and who so desperately need us to defend them. To consider them. I quieted my heart and felt compelled to ask God for forgiveness.

By the end of the conference, I was oddly aware of all the breaths I had breathed and the theme that had unfolded, mostly in the background of the day's highlighted moments. I opened my journal to read a daily scripture, and the words on the page couldn't have been sweeter:
"Breathe Me in with each breath."
Breathe Me in: in times of gratitude, distraction, grief, anxiety, exhaustion, and fear. Be reliant upon Me. Be aware of me in all things, Amber. I couldn't escape it. I kept breathing, and I realized that I will never breathe the same. Because He generously provides every single breath, and He gives His Spirit as readily as the air I breathe. He is standing so close to me now that I can almost imagine we share the same air.

On my final night in the hotel, I was reading from the Bible, continuing on with the year's plan, and I read about Moses parting the waters and traveling through the Red Sea, and how God protected His people from their enemies, saying, "I will pursue, I will overtake them." Moses said of God in return, "But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them" (Exodus 15:9-10). There I was in the unfamiliar hotel room, on the unfamiliar street, in the unfamiliar city, and I could imagine the breath of God moving with force in all directions away from me, putting my enemies to rest, sending them away for good. That same fierce breath then passed lightly over me: over the embers of my faintly, faithful heart to enliven a small flame or fire within. I "need only be still," You say: to breathe in, and breathe out. 

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