Breathing Practice

Breathing is one of the essential practices of the body that our bodies automatically do without us having to consciously think about it every single moment of the day. We breathe because we need to. Healthy breathing is deep, full, and restorative. Most of the time, we are not generally conscious of our breaths.

I consider myself fairly conscious of my breath. I will notice inhales and exhales and can control and breathe deeply like a singer or athlete or a baby most of the time. But I become incredibly conscious of my breathing when I cannot breathe like I should be able to.

Right now I’ve got a cold that complicated itself into bronchitis. It is not a whole lot of fun. But it has made me extremely conscious of my breathing. I try to fill my lungs and it feels like I just can’t quite get there. They won’t fill. No matter how much I inhale I still feel a bit lightheaded or weak.

It is shortlived (I hope). I’ve gone to see a doctor and I have new and fun drugs to try to clear my lungs out. I need my breath. I need to be able to breathe deeply. I still have to preach on Sunday. Last Sunday was an interesting exercise where I was not nearly as strong as I am used to. It was a short sermon and I was depending on the strength of the Spirit to get me through.

Really, that’s what I’ve been doing since the cold. Depending on the strength of the Spirit. I really need to do it more often. I am nearly not quite thankful for my cold and for my bronchitis, because it helps to remind me that even when I am healthy I am relying on the strength of God.

When I am under my own power, I can try to fill myself up as much as possible, but when I stop I find that I am still not all the way full. I find that my own strength is not enough, my own effort is not enough.

God uses my weakness to remind me of God’s own strength.

I’ll keep breathing in the Spirit, and try to fill myself up as much as possible with the force that gives even more life than air. It takes practice, but I am going to keep breathing for the foreseeable future. It is my practice of breathing the breath of God.

Difficult to Receive

My signoff in my emails, phone messages, and benedictions is a general variation on peace be with you. I seek to grant peace to others as I go throughout my day and my ministry. I pray peace over church members in hospitals, with those who are grieving or caring for the ill, upon those who have difficult decisions to make. I want others to be more at peace because of an encounter with me. I want to be used as an instrument of God so that God’s peace and comfort will rest on others. I can work pretty hard at sending peace. It doesn’t always work.

Sometimes the hardship continues, the stubbornness remains, and the isolation sinks deeper. Sometimes peace is not to be had. Sometimes the situation is without a sense of peace. It’s not anyone’s fault, just that peace is too elusive in certain times in our lives.

See, with all this peace that I am trying to grant when I am with others, the peace that I seek is away from others. I want a porch at a cabin on the beach or in the mountains: no telephones, no cell phones, no clocks, and no computers. Just me, a cup of coffee or tea, a loved one, and nature. I want a space where no one will disturb my peace, where no one will come to disrupt and add their own agitation into my environment.

I think that partly I want that kind of peace because I have a environment where I work where at any moment I can be entered into someone else’s crisis. I can be called up on at a moment’s notice to go and try to bring solace and care and even perhaps peace to a unstable situation. These calls don’t happen very often, but the possibility hovers over me six days a week.

If I’m honest, seven days a week. Even though I keep Sabbath, it doesn’t mean that I will not get called—especially in a dire emergency—during my Sabbath.

I have realized, finally, that if I cannot let go of the need to extend peace to all people at all times in all places, regardless of the circumstance, then I will rarely find time to extend peace to myself. I’ll wear out. There will be nothing left of me. I realize that. But it is so terribly hard to listen to the dual call of God, to extend peace to others, and then also to receive it for myself.

The receiving is the hardest. I don’t really consider how hard it might be for others to receive peace in their spaces from me. But if it is this hard for me to receive it, as I know that I need it and that it will work to help me as I always continue to grow more whole, then I suspect it is equally as hard or more so for those around me.

Do You?

My parents gave me a jar filled with over six hundred small slips of paper written with conversation and writing prompts. This is the one of my responses:

As a culture, we often focus on things that we do not like about ourselves, either collectively or individually. We are too sedentary. We are too addicted to highly processed fast food. We are too distracted, too plugged in, too concerned with what the next celebrity fad diet is. We are paying too much for health care. We are Just. Too. Busy.

It is too easy to get carried away with what we are too much of. There seems to be no space for rest, no space to get a breath in edgewise among the midst of the chaos around us. The cacophony is full of negative chants and combative murmurs. It is no wonder that we have become more and more reliant on quick fixes that can do more harm than help.

So where do we go in the midst of this? Where can we find a space to breathe? How do we live, never mind hope to thrive in the midst of this distraction? How do we learn to find things we like about ourselves again?

What do I like about myself? The list of what I don’t like is much easier to write. It sometimes gets played on repeat in my head and I cannot shut it off. But to stem the tide of don’t likes: I seek those things that I do like.

I do like my ability to play with just about any kid I come in contact with.

I do like my pastoral instincts of deeply embedded empathy and compassion.

I do like my passion in singing, especially when I pull out all the stops and let the sound fill the room.

I do like my joy, the joy I receive from others, and the joy I have on my own.

I don’t know what your list will look like, but I hope you begin to build one on your own. The more we learn to forgive ourselves and learn to like the parts that are good about ourselves, the more we will be able to like others, and learn to love them as well.

Imagine how we could transform our communities if we learned to notice the things that were good in us first. We seek to be good, we yearn to find health, we long to express love to those around us.* We are hungry for justice just as much as we are hungry for a space to find rest.

I find the more centered I am, the more I am able to share love with others even when I am exhausted. I can only share the gifts I have for compassion and empathy and play when I am not running on less than empty. I find that energy when I can learn to like things about myself, and about those around me. If I am always focused on the negative, then that is all I will ever find. So instead, I seek to find things I like about myself, so that I can love those around me more deeply. Love shines in the darkest nights and draws me closer to my community. Love allows me to find beauty in the world. And that gives me more to like.

Family and The Beach. Two Things I Love.
Family and The Beach. Two Things I Love.

*This is my sister’s theory: “we all long to love.” She claims it belongs to the universe. 


For Christmas, my parents gave me a jar filled with over six hundred small slips of paper written with conversation and writing prompts. This is the first of my responses:

My journal jar asks: How would you cope if you lost everything you own?

My first question back is: how did I lose everything I own? And then I am relieved, because it says, everything I own, not just everything.

How would I lose everything I own? Probably a fire or a flood. And I would do what others do, I would ask and depend on the gifts and kindness of others. But, if I lost EVERYTHING I own, would that also mean that I lost my savings? Maybe I’d also lose my debt. It would be harder to get back on my feet, though I know that we have family and friends who would continue to help us even when others had forgotten about us.

I’d grieve some things. My Great Aunt Bea’s oils. My engagement and wedding ring and descending doves. Some of my clothes with sentimental value. Tokens from my travels. Gifts from others that were made with loving care. My burgeoning scarf collection. Unsaved photos.

Other things would just be annoying. Clothes to replace. Dishes that I love and cookbooks with notes in them. Bedding and linens and things that make my house feel like my home. All our game collection. All those books.

Some stuff I’d be glad to be rid of. Things that I didn’t want to deal with, so I just threw it in a box and moved it again. Clothes that I keep looking at, don’t wear, but don’t feel like giving away quite yet. Memories I don’t want to keep.

But I’d still have my friends, and my family, and my church. What a relief to know that I have people around me who would support me if I lost everything. Some folks don’t have that. But I’ve been building my support system, and I have tested it already. It works.

If I lost everything I owned, it would try my patience, it would try my faith, it would try my sanity. I’d feel lost for a while. I’d go to a drawer and not realize for a while why what I was looking for wasn’t there. My things, and the loss of them, would act as a phantom limb.

I’d learn exactly how connected I am to my things. I can say that I am not very connected right now, but I still have everything. I am surrounded by my creature comforts, while near freezing rain falls outside. I don’t want to lose everything, but if I did, it would remind me how much I can and must depend on others.

I forget sometimes that I cannot do everything on my own. I don’t want to have to learn dependence by losing everything I own, but I do need reminders that I don’t depend on my stuff. I depend on the love of others, and I depend on a saving love that redeems me, without any of my stuff.


Carve me out, God. Create a new place for you to inhabit. Reform me, shape me as a river erodes the land, forming canyons of immense beauty. Sink your roots deep inside me, break my stubborn rock apart by gentle pressure. Hollow my cave until I whisper and whistle your presence with every move, until I resonate and reverberate your holiness with every sound.

I am being hollowed. Opened up, emptied of what is unnecessary. What I thought was important, what I held dear to me is being cracked apart and allowed to drift away in the wind like chaff. Over and over again, God is proving what is important in my life. God is allowing me to learn from my experiences, and has journeyed with me through some incredibly deep valleys.

My first year of ministry it was my able-bodiedness. When I lost the ability to walk, I learned that I could rely on others to meet my needs, and I learned that I could serve God in different ways. I learned how to see the world as someone who has to roll through buildings and over surfaces. I learned new limits, how easy it is to wear out over what used to seem so simple.

I am able to walk again, my handicap was merely temporary. I hold on to the memories to learn and remember what it is like for those who cannot heal so very quickly, or cannot heal at all.

Now it is my headaches. I do not go a day without pain that interferes with my thought. I have days where the only option is to go back to bed and force unconsciousness. Most days I can do what I need to do, but some of the joy is stolen as the pain overtakes me. I scrape by on bits and pieces of good moments, and struggle through a migraine only to find another one waiting at the next inopportune time.

God did not give me these headaches, but God is using them to teach me to rely on the love and support of others, and especially on God.

I wish I could snap my fingers and find the solution to this pain. I pray that I don’t wake up the next morning with a head so full of pain that I have to cradle my face in my palms. There are things I cannot do because of this pain. I have to choose between what I need to get done and what I want to finish. I usually work through the pain, and manage to do ministry, hiding my suffering behind a translucent veneer of coping.

Eventually I will be able to share how I have grown, what I have learned, who I have become in the midst of this experience that reaches to every part of my life. Once this part of the journey is done, the transformation will be surprising. For now, as I am in the midst of this process of breaking down and rebuilding, all I can see is the suffering.

I trust that God is forming me into a vessel that will deliver the Word to places that I don’t know about yet. But the future is muddy. The valleys are deep and steeped in shadows. Pain is my constant companion. The emptiness reigns.

I wait to be filled.