Everyday Spirituality

Archive for December, 2011

Breath of Heaven

So often we take breathing for granted. It is natural. It is an automatic reflex…involuntary. The first breath of air we take thrusts us into what we call life. Without that first breath we have no life, at least not outside of the womb. We do not think about our breathing very much unless we have a breathing related problem like asthma.

I invite you to take a few moments now…sit back relax and focus on the wonder of your own breathing. Breathing in all that is good in creation and breathing out all that troubles or stresses you. Take deep breaths allowing your lungs to completely fill with fresh air. Hold each breath for a moment before gently exhaling. Breathing in and out notice the rhythm of your own breathing. Continue taking about five deep cleansing breaths in a row. Following this brief exercise you should feel refreshed.

There is a popular Christmas song called Breath of Heaven. I like the arrangement sung by Amy Grant. This song suggests that the birth of Jesus was a breath from heaven. The image of the Nativity we have accepted for many years depicts the infant Jesus surrounded by barn animals. All present waiting for the birthing process to commence. Mary and Joseph’s breath mingles with that of the animals. The breath of Mary intensifies as the head of Jesus crowns. All are breathing in the very air created by God the Father. When the baby, Jesus, is finally born the focus turns to his breathing. Suddenly what matters most is only the breathing of this tiny newborn…Jesus. Mary’s breathing is now combined with her tears of joy at the birth of her Lord.

I remember during labor for our children having to be reminded to breath. In birthing classes you actually practice a panting type of breathing to help ease the stress of the labor. Mary had no such detailed mentoring, although she most likely was aided by stories and advice from other women in her family. During labor you do not take breathing for granted.

I have had another time in my life when my breathing seemed suspended in longer than normal intervals. Several years ago I had ‘frozen shoulder’; during the physical therapy sessions I had to be told to remember to breathe. When in pain you have a tendency to focus your attention on the pain causing you to hold your breath.

At the Annunciation God spoke Jesus into being in cooperation with Mary’s consent. At the birth of Jesus the Word truly became flesh. The Word became a living breathing human….A man that would need to breathe the air to sustain his earthly life…A man that would need to breathe the air created by his heavenly father. This is the same air we breathe today.

The animals came to the birth of Jesus breathing in the same air. The shepherds came to the birth of Jesus also breathing in the very same air. The rhythm of the breathing encircling Jesus was like a symphony of praise for the creation of air.

The first breath we take at our own birth is like the first word of a sentence. I would like to emphasize the initial capital letter because it truly depicts the attention given to a newborn’s breathing. As we grow, learn, and progress through life the sentence of our life becomes complex. The diagram of our life would have many lines diverging from the subject. I used to be fascinated with diagramming sentences as a teen.

Just as all sentences come to an end so does one’s life eventually come to an end. The last breath we take before the period at the end of the sentence of our life is just as profound as our first breath at birth. Mary waited at the foot of the cross for her beloved son to take his final breath that would end his earthly life.

I was so blessed to be present when my dear friend took her final breath and the period was placed at the end of her life’s sentence.

I often return to the ‘diagram’ of her life in my thoughts and swing awhile with her on a dangling participle…as we smile and breathe in love’s sweet air together.

This exercise is a very real and comforting ‘breath of heaven’ for me.

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Breath of Heaven: Sneak Peak

Sending you all a little sneak peak of my Christmas post titled Breath of Heaven.

May you each be surrounded by the Breath of Heaven this Christmas Day.

May the Peace of Christ, the Word made flesh, be with each of you.

There is a popular Christmas song called Breath of Heaven. I like the arrangement sung by Amy Grant. This song suggests that the birth of Jesus was a breath from heaven. The image of the Nativity we have accepted for many years depicts the infant Jesus surrounded by barn animals. All present waiting for the birthing process to commence. Mary and Joseph’s breath mingles with that of the animals. The breath of Mary intensifies as the head of Jesus crowns. All are breathing in the very air created by God the Father. When the baby, Jesus, is finally born the focus turns to his breathing. Suddenly what matters most is only the breathing of this tiny newborn…Jesus. Mary’s breathing is now combined with her tears of joy at the birth of her Lord.

Please enjoy the scenes from the Nativity movie as you listen to the

lyrics of this beautiful song sung by Amy Grant.

 

 

Friends Define Each Other

“If Jesus can be said to have had a best friend,

it was certainly Simon Peter.

It has been my experience that

friends define each other.

When I am uncertain about the direction of my life,

I go to my closest friends to affirm,

or perhaps reaffirm,

who I am and what the calling in my life is all about.”

Several years ago I read these words written by Michael Card in his book A Fragile Stone. They jumped off the page then, but today they have an even more profound meaning to me. The loss of my friend has made me stop as if held in between two breaths. I have lost my Faith Twin, the person who gave definition to my life purpose. Her affirming words always came at just the right time. “You CAN do this.” We gave each other permission to express our faith outside of the more conventional parameters. It was okay for us to take a gospel story and make it our very own. It was natural for us to invite others to walk into the pages of scripture with us; to bring them alive in today’s world.

Whenever I had doubts I knew I could go to her and be honest and open about where I was with situations in my life. I believe I can still talk with her; only I cannot hear her affirming words.

                       

Who am I? Where am I going? How will I get there?

She was there to listen and to offer her advice. When you risk sharing your hopes and dreams with another you must trust that they will affirm you. You have faith; they will help you decide what is to ultimately come to define who you are becoming.

I have lost my sounding board. The defining pages of my life have less clarity today than before her death. She was present on so many occasions as we wrote the pages of our lives together. Together we defined each other as we shared our love for others in so many ways.

I sometimes feel like Linus. Who would he be without his blanket? But unlike a real person; a blanket is just a thing. A blanket cannot respond to you.

You may be wondering if we were codependent and the answer is a confident NO, but it was so nice to have her here to share the defining moments of what my life was becoming.

One of our last conversations was about the future for Faith Twins…me alone…without her presence. This conversation was saturated with hope for a beautiful future. A future preserving what we had defined through our friendship. A future filled with hope…a future filled with blank pages delicately bordered by the fingerprints of our friendship… pages…to be continued… defining my life’s purpose. She had a way of helping me to see what my calling in life was about…I know there are many times yet to come when I will long to hear her words of reassurance…just to hear her voice.

I will walk all the days of my life

in the land of the living….

For it is right and just to give him praise and thanks.

Praise and thanks for touching my life in so many subtle and profound ways.

Who most helps define who you are today?

Give thanks for that person.

Promises…the Ballet

We use the word promise so casually today. We promise to do things and we promise not to do certain things. We even make promises to ourselves. But somehow when a loved one is ill or dying the promises we make then carry more weight. They seem to be more important…like a final testament of your love for them.

 

Well Sunday, I kept a promise that I made to my dear friend…I went to watch her daughter and granddaughter dance in a performance of the Nutcracker.

Please do not misunderstand my intention here…Yes, I am going as she requested. I have gone before and would have attended this performance anyway, but this year it is in her honor.  The difference is that it was one of her last requests.

A few weeks before her death, while she was hospitalized, we had a most intimate conversation about the future without her presence. It was a special tender time for us together as we shared so much about her futures hopes and dreams. As we lovingly held hands she softly spoke about what things she would miss and how she wanted me to be there…not to replace her presence, but to somehow give flesh to her love representing her deep desire to be there. A symbol of our loving commitment to one another; she was confident that I would be thrilled to go watch her precious daughter and granddaughter dance. She knew my love for them was great, too.

When people are dying they grasp on to those things which represent life for them and to them. For my dear friend supporting her family in everything they pursued was at the top of the list. It brought her great joy to watch her daughter perform ballet and jazz dance as a child. There were many long hours invested in dance lessons, practices, sewing costumes, and all that is related to dance. When you are devoted to dance (or anything else that requires intense attention) you happily make sacrifices in other areas of your life.

While her daughter was an excellent dancer she chose another field for her career, but dance was and continues to be one of her great loves. I know that my friend could see and feel the joy her daughter experienced when her granddaughter began to blossom in dance as well.

It was not long before this beautiful wife and mother of three was back at the ballet bar and once again on point. She was bitten by the ‘Ballet Bug’. You know the little ‘bug’ in the fluffy tulle tutu! Ballet is such a beautiful art to watch…grace, movement, muscle control, timing, flexibility, the music, and much more.

I will always hold in my heart the joy and the twinkle in my friend’s eye just seeing her granddaughter dance and pirouette in the living room. She would break into a full face, ear to ear smile. I loved her warm smile.

I believe Sunday night she was there for I felt her presence sitting with me. I could feel the warmth of her smile. Excuse me for a moment as I wipe away a tear of love and joy. I trust that she had the best seat in the house looking down on all of us. She could even see back in the dressing room as her daughter commented later.

Following the final performance we celebrated with dinner together and managed to joyfully include stories of our loved one. I have heard some people refer to death as just being on the other side of the curtain. Well Sunday night behind the curtain was something made in heaven; lovely ballerinas especially the two we love and most wanted to see.

The beauty of ballet is truly heavenly.

My dear friend, here’s to many more promises joyfully kept.

 

Expectations

Many times I have experienced in my life the incongruence between what I anticipate, my expectations, and the ultimate reality. How often the anticipation of an event was just awesome. In my head I create the whole scenario laced up with my expectations. Oops! Therein lays the kink…my expectations. Then when the reality arrives it comes as total shock. I say to myself…‘Wait! This is not how I expected things to go. Did you not see ‘My script?’ All of this just makes for an overall disappointing experience.

I find it difficult not to set up expectations for our lives. Sometimes these expectations have been unreasonable right from the beginning, but they can also be inspiring.

Maybe these imaginary expectations are a necessary part of who we are…or do they really serve any purpose. I try to stop myself from creating these expectations, but that is an exhausting undertaking. If you are a parent you can relate to what I mean about harboring expectations for your children.

Vigilance is necessary to halt these thoughts after they have already begun to build up within your head. I am anxious at just the thought of how to keep these expectant thoughts simmering in the background.

I try by telling myself that my expectations really do not matter. But come on, who am I trying to fool? Of course it matters to me or I would not even have the thoughts. You only have expectations about those things you care about.

As we are now a quarter of the way into Advent; I wonder what our Blessed Mother would say about her expectations. We know from scripture, she was filled with joy. I too have been filled with joy in anticipation of long awaited events.

For Mary becoming the mother of Our Lord must have been overwhelming and wonderful at the same time. But I wonder if she really expected the prophecy of Simeon proclaiming her heart would be ‘pierced with a sword’?

I have encountered people who seem to always look for the negative in every situation. And when the worst does not happen…are they then filled with disappoint that their expectations were not met?

Sometimes my expectations are idyllic I must admit. Honestly, sometimes I would like to escape from the reality of my life. The unmet expectations that I have no control over…picture perfect home…lots of loving grandchildren.

 Expectations can actually be like shackles around your ankles. While you are concentrating on your expectations, are you depriving yourself from the beauty of your real life?

It is not easy to set aside one’s expectations. It presents itself as an almost daily challenge.

Life is so constructed that an event; does not, cannot, and will not, match the expectation.   ~ Charlotte Bronte~

Setting expectations are much like writing goals. As a teacher it was often much easier to put down on paper my expectations for my students than to actually see them materialize. At the end of every school year I was evaluated on whether or not I ‘exceeded the expectations’ of the administration, which of course I always tried to accomplish.

A master can tell you what he expects of you.

A teacher, though awakens your own expectations. ~ Patricia Neal~

So my challenge, if you want to join me, during this Advent is to curtail my expectations and try to relish in what is in actuality my real life. Not the life which I have fabricated in my head.

It is not possible to live in the “land of expectations”; for the time inevitably comes when reality is bold faced and in all caps.

To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.  ~Mark Nepo~

Reality is the present.

The reality for Mary, that she could not escape, was waiting for her at the foot of the cross. She accepted this painful reality. The limp lifeless body of her beloved son was laid into her arms for one last time. Mary’s life is a model for me of anticipation, expectation, and reality.

I pray for the grace to quiet the expectations of my heart;

joyfully accepting what becomes reality.

Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations. ~ Leo Buscaglia~