The Breath of Life: The Killing of George Floyd

dandelion 3

In these extraordinarily troubling times, I find myself reflecting on the act of breathing.

Breathing is so basic and fundamental to life, but it also calls forth our connection to God in a very powerful way. The book of Genesis says: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” In Latin, spiritus means “the breath of life.”  The very spirit of God breathed into us at the moment of our Creation.

Using breath as a form of prayer is an ancient Christian practice. The Hebrew words for “breath” and “spirit” are the same. When we’re breathing, we call forth the Holy Spirit that dwells within us. We’re using our bodies to focus on the essence of our connection with God—our own moment of Divine creation when God breathed the breath of life into our nostrils.

In practices like yoga and mindfulness, we focus on breath to center ourselves, to calm our minds, to relieve pain. How easily we take for granted the simple act of taking in oxygen to sustain life in our human bodies.

Then came COVID-19 with its insidious attack on our respiratory systems. We realized how fragile life can be.  As conversations swirled around chest pain, ventilators, and intubation tubes, we watched this virus cruelly suffocating people, resulting in death, after death, after death.

But it wasn’t COVID-19 that killed George Floyd. His life was taken by a cruel act of violence at the hands of a police officer. His words “I can’t breathe” should haunt each and every one of us as we confront this vile sickness of racism that plagues our country and robbed George Floyd—and so many other Black citizens—of their breath and their lives. Systemic racism is a contagion that has been around far longer than COVID-19, and has taken life and liberty from countless numbers of God’s children.

For those of us with privilege, doing our part to rid the world of COVID-19 was in many ways easy. All we had to do was stay home. We made donations from the safety of our computers, we sewed masks, and we supported our local businesses.  But we also took long walks, played board games, baked bread, and organized Zoom gatherings with our loved ones. We spent more time than ever before outside, breathing in deeply as winter gave way to spring. We worked hard to manage our anxiety as we prayed for God’s healing for all those who were sick, and we prayed for God’s protection for all those bravely serving on the front lines of this virus.

For those of us who are white, doing our part to rid the world of racism will not be as easy. It will make us uncomfortable and ask more from us than we may currently be giving. We must begin by examining our own assumptions and behaviors, and this can be a painful process. We must speak up in ways that may feel scary. I have been guilty of this for many years.  I stayed quiet for fear of “making waves,” turning people away, saying the wrong thing, or offending someone.

Remember, Jesus came to challenge the status quo. He wasn’t afraid to speak out, to call out hypocrisy, to stand in solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed. If we believe in a God of love, we cannot remain silent. If we believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life, we must actively speak out against the loss of Black lives from systemic racism and acts of hatred. In the words of Fr. William Wallace, O.S.A., J.D.­As members of the one Body of Christ we must stand in support of all those who are understandably outraged and who feel that they are not being heard. We must affirmatively choose the more difficult, but more right and just, path of engagement and action, instead of the easy path of indifference and inaction.”

I am more conscious of my breathing now, recognizing each breath as a gift from God. A gift that belongs to each and every one of us. I will use my breath to thank God for sparing me and my loved ones from the terrorizing reality of COVID-19. I will use my breath to talk about the fact that Black Americans are disproportionately affected by this virus and are losing jobs at a higher rate. I will use my breath not only to pray for an end to racism, but to actively work to be part of the solution, speaking out against the racial violence that has been perpetrated against Black Americans for hundreds of years. I will use my breath to listen, to educate myself, and to stand in solidarity with the Black community.

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Encountering God Within

silhouette prayer

With churches closing all over the world due to the spread of COVID-19, many of us are being kept away from our parishes, our beloved retreat centers, or other places of prayer. It’s easy to feel closed off from God during this time. 

If we can’t get in…how can we encounter God?

We are used to seeking God outside of ourselves, but now we must find God in our own hearts. This time of social distancing requires us – even encourages us – to look deep within, for the Holy One dwelling inside of us. Distractions of the outside world are greatly reduced as we embrace stillness and quiet. We take solace in nature. In God’s beauty. In the knowledge that we can rest in God when we feel overwhelmed with worry, sadness, or exhaustion.

Jesus says: “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” (John 15:5).  What does it mean, to have Christ remain in us? It means that Jesus is not someone who exists outside of us. He dwells within us, a constant presence and source of hope. 

In Richard Rohr’s meditation “God is Everywhere” he states: “The pinnacle of prayer is reached when we can trust that we are constantly in the presence of God. We cannot not be in the presence of God!” Our churches may be closed, but we – the children of God – are open to God’s great love. We are open to pray for one another and our world. We are open to God’s gift of grace. Amen!

Please share your thoughts below. How are you keeping your faith life alive during this time of church closings?

A Prayer of Receiving

Winter sun

We pray in wonder and awe for Creation, your ancient gift of grace. You made the sun and moon, the land and seas, and all the creatures of the earth. You created us in your own image as your beloved sons and daughters. Today we reflect on your gift of precious life here on earth.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

We pray in wonder and awe for your gift of grace—fulfilled in your Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered death on a cross that we might live. In mercy, you gave us your Son to pay ransom for all our sins. Today we reflect on your gift of everlasting life.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

We pray in thanksgiving for the blessings you grant us. Your grace is not something we must earn or deserve. It is a gift freely given. We pray in thanksgiving for your extravagant love. Like the compassionate father, you welcome us home when we are lost.  Your redeeming grace rescues us from a life of darkness.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

We promise to seek you in sanctuary. In the quiet stillness, we hear you speak to us. In your loving embrace, we are restored and nourished. We promise to seek you in the everyday moments of ordinary life. To pray where we are and invite you into each moment. Through this ongoing conversation with you we receive peace and contentment.

Open our hearts, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace.

Give us new eyes to see the beauty of God’s creation, new ears to listen for God’s whispers, and a new outlook to experience the transforming power of your love.

AMEN.

A Prayer of Emptying

Snow on branch

Lord, I bring to you all that is on my plate.  The noise, the clutter, the chaos, and the distractions.  Help me to empty myself so that I may see you, hear you, and feel your presence.

Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life. Empty the interior space of my soul that I may receive you and discover who I truly am.

Lord, I bring to you my fears and worries…all the things that are so heavy and hard to carry. I place them into your hands.

Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life.  I place my trust in you. I place my faith in you. I place my life in you.

Lord, I bring to you my burdens. Things that I cannot control weigh me down like a heavy rock.  On the days that I am tired, stressed, and weary, I know that you walk with me.

Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life.  I know that you are my rock—my cornerstone—and I can find rest in you.

AMEN.

 

Photo by Roman Trofimiuk on Unsplash

A Road Map to Balance

Stack of stones

Are you able to recognize when your life is out of balance? What does it mean…and what does it look like?

It often happens gradually and most of the time we are so caught up in the daily-ness of life, that it wouldn’t even occur to us that we might be out of balance. We work like crazy, pushing ourselves to the limit. We don’t realize that our minds are burned out, our bodies are worn out, and our spirits are wrung out. 

God created us to live a life of balance.

BALANCE OF MIND
A friend of mine told a story of a particularly busy time of working long hours for weeks on end because her job required it. She gave herself no breaks and took no time to rest her mind or recharge her batteries. She came home from work one night and her husband offered to pick up dinner. “What would you like?” he asked her. “Choose your favorite takeout restaurant and I’ll go get us something to eat.”  My friend had stretched herself so thin that she couldn’t even make that simple decision. Her brain just couldn’t do it. On the verge of tears she looked at her husband and said: “You know what I like. Can’t you just choose something?” This was a moment of a life out of balance.

BALANCE OF BODY
When your body is out of balance, you will eventually figure it out, too. Lack of sleep catches up with you. Poor nutrition can zap you of energy. Not drinking enough water can lead to headaches and even dizziness. And this idea of balance can go the other way too. Exercise and healthy eating can become a preoccupation. I’ve seen athletes push themselves to the point of injury because they didn’t pay attention to the signs from their own bodies.

BALANCE OF SPIRIT
When our spirit is out of balance, we tend to overly focus on one emotion or feeling—usually those emotions that do not bring us joy. We fixate on bitterness over love. Guilt over acceptance. Deficit over abundance. Fear over faith. The backdrop of our spiritual life can also fall out of balance. Solitude can lead to loneliness. Crowds can become overwhelming. If we put all our focus on doing one thing, our spiritual life will feel off kilter. Faith calls for us to live through prayer and action. Through time alone with our Creator and time spent helping our brothers and sisters.

God desires us to live a life of balance.  

Once we discover that we are OUT of balance, how do we get back on track? How do we achieve this balance in our lives? After you finish reading this blog post, take out a piece of paper and write down the following four questions:

  • What is important in my life?
  • What are some things I absolutely need in life to feel happy?
  • What brings meaning to my life?
  • What makes me feel inspired?

Over the next few days, weeks, or even months, spend some time pondering your answers to these questions. Write them down so you can refer back to them. This is your road map to balance. Anything you do that brings you closer to the things you’ve written will center you. Anything you do that drives you further away from these things requires further examination. 

Some of it may be necessary. We have obligations in life that bring stress and exhaustion and we can’t change it. But we CAN make smaller changes to weed out some things that are not important. To put less focus on the things we don’t truly need. To diminish that which does not bring meaning to our lives. And to lean into that which inspires us.

The changes might be internal. (Gently changing our thoughts.) They may be external. (Seeking out friends who help us achieve this balance.) They may be faith-based. (Asking God in prayer to help us stick to the things that really matter.) It’s an evolving, constantly changing process. We move toward balance, we fall out of balance, we move back again. But we know that in this journey towards balance, God is with us every teetering and steady step of the way.

Let’s learn from each other! Share your thoughts on achieving balance in the comments below.

 

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Practicing Spirit-Care

Spirit Care blog post

Do a Google search on “self-care” and you’ll come up with over two billion hits. It’s a popular buzzword these days, and I’ve seen it described in lots of different ways in countless blogs, websites, and articles. According to the dictionary: “Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”

Most often self-care is recommended for people who spend the majority of their time taking care of others. Teachers, nurses, social workers, health care aids, and those who work in caring ministries. The truth is, we can all benefit from self-care, but many of us are reluctant to do so. We think of it as a luxury. Something we don’t have time for. Some of us even feel that self-care is selfish. There are too many people that need me! How can I take time away from my important work to do something for myself? 

What if instead of calling it self-care, you called it spirit-care. Does it seem more worthwhile? Isn’t it important to care for your spirit as a beloved child of God? Wouldn’t God want that for you?  

Would it make you feel better to realize that this was something Jesus often did? Even though he had incredibly important work to do during the three short years of his ministry, Jesus recognized when he needed to pause, to step away and take time to restore himself. He knew that if he was going to be able to do God’s will, he needed to be able to listen, pray, and to spend time alone with God.

  • From Luke 6:12 – One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
  • From Mark 1:35 – Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (He did this after spending the night before healing many sick and driving out demons.)
  • From Luke 5:15-16 – Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
  • From Matthew 14:23 – After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. (He did this after feeding the crowd of 5,000.)

I love the fact that through his own actions, Jesus himself gives us permission to retreat. And that has long been my favorite method of spirit-care. I’ve often heard it described as a “sacred pause.” From the very first retreat I attendeda five-day silent retreat when I was in collegeI was amazed by how life-changing it could be to press pause on my busy life in order to focus on uninterrupted time with God. The importance of retreats became the hallmark of my ministry: Hearing God’s Whisper. Every blog entry that I post is meant to encourage a mini-retreat for the person reading it.

I think some people struggle with the idea of self-care because it seems too much like pampering…this sense that you’re doing something that completely and only benefits you, as if you are more important than anyone else. But when you retreat, you aren’t alone. You’re spending this time with your Creator. Spirit-care is a partnership. Spirit-care renews us so we can continue our important work of caring for others. Your spirit needs to be filled up from the inside out. Cars can’t run on empty. Watering cans can’t give life to plants if they’re empty. 

You need to be filled up before you can be poured out.

In the words of Christian writer Olivia Spears: “When it comes to things we care about like our family and our work, none of us aim to give the very last leftover bits of ourselves. Rather, we desire to give the very best of ourselves. So when we take care of ourselves, we are filled up, renewed, and restored so we can offer the Lord and the people around us the very best of who we are.”

Spirit-care can be relaxing, peaceful and restorative. It can be deep, wild, and creative. It is different for each person. But it doesn’t just happen. Remember…the dictionary describes it as taking an “active role.”  I like to think of it as a practice. Something you work on over time, because you value yourself. Because you believe that you are worth it, and the work you do needs the very best of you.

My prayer for you is that you will take time (or make time) to retreat. Whether it’s a weekend away or 10 minutes of deep breathing…give yourself that gift. Care for your spirit the way you care so beautifully for the people in your life.

Near or Far

foggy morning

There are times when I see you through a thick fog.
My eyes squint and strain…but you don’t take shape.
I want to BELIEVE you are near
But you seem far away.

There are days when I hear you through a pounding rain or a crashing sea.
I lean towards you…but your voice is faint.
I must HOPE you are near
But you sound far away.

There are moments when I feel you through a crowd,
They press and pull on me from every direction.
Feeling off balance and unsteady…I don’t know how or where to reach for you.
I need to TRUST you are near
But you feel far away.

Loving God,
Emerge from the fog
Sing through the storm
Touch my heart through the chaos
I will turn my eyes and ears – my whole being – towards you. 

The fog still surrounds me, the waves crash, and the crowd presses.
But I am safe and strong – with YOU.
I can sweep the fog away. I can swallow the rain. I can embrace the crowd.

You are near… you are HERE, always.

AMEN.

Drifting Towards God

two boats

I have a friend who is a social worker at a middle school, and she spends a lot of time talking to her young students about the peaks and valleys of friendship. Children’s loyalty can change with the wind. A best friend one day can be an icy acquaintance the next. This can lead to confusion and hurt and can be very difficult to navigate. To help her students make sense of it, my friend uses the metaphor of two drifting boats. It’s ok to drift away from a friend for awhile, if that’s what seems best. It doesn’t mean you can’t come back together at some future point.

More than anything, God desires to be in relationship with us. But the metaphor of the drifting boats isn’t quite right in describing this divine relationship. God never drifts away from us, but is instead the constant fixed point. Firmly anchored in a place of love and faithfulness. We may come and go depending on our feelings, emotions, doubts, and life circumstances…but the best news is that God never moves. We can always drift back (or even come crashing back!) onto the shores of God’s love. 

In her book Journal Keeping: Writing for Spiritual Growth, Luann Budd poses the question: “On a scale of 1-10 (10 being intimate), how close do you feel to God today?”  Before continuing with this blog post, sit for a few minutes in silence and answer this question. Write down the number.

Now spend some time this week examining why you scored yourself that way. If your number is on the low side, why might that be? Have you drifted away from God for some reason? What is holding you back from moving closer to God? Very often it’s guilt. Or maybe confusion. A feeling that God has abandoned you during a time of need. Or it may be a fear of revealing yourself. If God truly saw me for everything I am, God couldn’t possibly love me! 

Recognize that these thoughts may be natural and very human, but they are not based in the truth of God’s love. Try to spend a little bit of time each day pondering God’s unconditional love, acceptance, and presence in your life. You’ll find your thoughts begin to change and you’ll drift closer to God each day.

If you scored high on the scale, that’s great! You’re feeling close to God in this moment. Drink it in and let yourself be filled with gratitude. Examine the circumstances that have you feeling so close to God right now. What methods are you using to connect with God in your life?  

  • Maybe it’s nature. You’re in touch with the beauty of God’s creation. You find God in the warm sunshine, the gentle breeze, the endless ocean, the enduring woods. 
  • Maybe it’s relationships. You feel fulfilled by the love in your life, and you know that God has placed these people in your path. You feel God every time you hug your child, smile at your spouse, laugh with your sister, or cry with a friend. 
  • Maybe it’s your ministry or vocation. You are doing God’s work and you feel a sense of fulfillment and purpose. You can hear God speaking to you through the work that you do. Helping others, caring for the earth, tending to the needs of God’s Kingdom. 

Whatever the reason may be, lean into it. Capture the feeling. Write about it in your journal.  There will come a time when you inevitably drift away again, and it will help to have a reminder of this time when you felt close to God’s radiant love.  

And remember, our spiritual practice is constantly changing and evolving. Your score today may not be your score tomorrow. Return to this exercise again and again in your ongoing journey to draw closer to God.

 

Background Photo by Evgeny Nelmin on Unsplash

Lost and Found

compass

Loving God, bless the times when I am a seeker. Forever seeking to know You more deeply. Traveling to all places and all times to discover You in our midst. I seek those thin places where the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and I can gaze upon Your face.

Loving God, bless the times when I grow weary of seeking. When I simply want to be found. Come and seek me wherever I am, whatever I may be doing. When You are part of the ordinary moments of my day…then I am home.

Loving God, whether I am seeking or sought, lost or found…I praise You in all things. Your love is mighty and good. Your power is everlasting.

AMEN.

A Prayer for the Present Moment

water lily

Loving God, I come to you as I am,
Rushed and frazzled, electricity buzzing from my fingertips,
Or sluggish, plodding through the mud, footsteps heavy and slow.
Whatever my pace, I have arrived at this precise moment with you.

Lord Jesus, I rest in the knowledge that you will meet me here,
At the crossroads of sorrow and joy,
Of confusion and clarity,
Of stress and serenity.

Heavenly Father, help me to pause.
To listen, and pray, and sit in the quiet
With you, my song blending with yours
In beautiful harmony

God of love, I pray for the inspiration to put away my own plans,
And discover what you have in mind for me
I am listening, I am here with you.
I will be present.
I will just BE.

 

 

Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash