The Bread of Life

It always gives me pause when I hear news stories of empty shelves and food shortages in American grocery stores. While it’s true that the pandemic continues to disrupt the process of getting food from warehouses, to trucks, to grocery store shelves, we are a long way from seeing completely empty stores. Even in the earliest days of the pandemic (the hunting for toilet paper days!) this was far from being true.

My extended family had a fun conversation over Christmas, trying to guess how long it would take one person to eat all the food in a typical grocery store. We started by imagining the bread aisle. Each loaf has about 15 slices. How many loaves? Now add in English muffins, tortillas, pita bread, and bagels. Then we moved on to pasta, rice, beans, and all the other grains. We spent some delightful moments picturing eating our way through the potato chip aisle. It was unfathomable to imagine consuming that much food. We hadn’t even gotten to dairy, meat, or produce, let alone the frozen food section. A poster on Reddit estimated that it would take one person over 300 years to eat everything!

But yet, we go to the grocery store and if one or two things that we like to eat are not on the shelves, we are dissatisfied. If on one particular day, we see one area of empty shelves, we begin to panic. We’re so used to the seemingly limitless supply of food, we’re not sure how to react when that view is challenged. 

I think this speaks to how we view abundance in our world. What does it mean to have enough? What do we really need to be satisfied? Where do we go for that satisfaction? Can we be creative in finding sustenance in our lives? I know the pandemic taught my family how to make do with some strange combinations of food. Back when it was hard to find eggs, flour, frozen vegetables, or soup, we figured out ways to make lunches and dinners with whatever we could find. Some of those meals ended up being our most enjoyable, because we were proud of our outside-the-box culinary creations. And maybe for the first time in our lives, we did not take for granted the fact that we had food on our table. 

Abundance began to take on new meaning.

All of our needs can be met with the abundance of God’s love. Overflowing, excessive, bountiful, crazy amounts of love. With God, there is no such thing as going hungry. 

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 
(John 6:35) 

I encourage you to reflect on moments when you’ve felt this abundance in your life; of how rich you felt in God’s love and grace. For me, that silly grocery store conversation on Christmas Eve was a perfect example. The love, laughter, and closeness filled my heart with joy.

If you’d like to become more aware of God’s abundance in your own life, I invite you to follow these steps:

  • Identify what it is you truly hunger for. For some it may be peace, or love, or inspiration. Lately I find myself hungering for evidence of goodness in the world.
  • Be on the lookout for the ways in which God is satisfying that hunger. Remember it may be in ways you don’t expect. Or it may come from places or people that surprise you. Be open to receiving this abundance, and you’ll begin to notice it everywhere!
  • Be grateful for God’s abundance. Best-selling author Melanie Beattie once wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.” When your hunger has been satisfied, or a particular need has been met, take time to thank God for it.
  • Pay it forward. For just as God sends people into our lives to “feed” us along the way, surely we can be that food and sustenance for others.

As you spend time this week reflecting on God’s abundance, please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I would love to hear your stories of experiencing the Bread of Life in your everyday lives.

Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

To Retreat With the Lord

When a new year begins, I like to spend some time reflecting on the themes that filled the year (or years) I’m leaving behind. Last year held many moments of joy, family, friendship, and fun. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t also marked by a lingering sense of isolation, withdrawal, and social distance. Many of us spent more time than we thought we would this year staying home. Avoiding crowds. Retreating from friends, family, and social gatherings. During the pandemic, the idea of “retreat” has taken on a new meaning, one which is a far cry from the kind of spiritual retreats that have defined my ministry over the past 13 years.  

The Omicron variant once again threatens to plunge us into isolation and quarantine. My husband and I have made the decision to hunker down as best we can for the next few weeks until this new (and hopefully final!) surge passes. But that doesn’t mean our time of retreat can’t also be a welcome sanctuary or a time of fruitful solitude. For today’s reflection, I would like to reclaim the idea of “retreat” as a spiritual practice—a way to grow closer to God, to deepen our faith, and to feel alive in the Spirit.

What does it mean to retreat with the Lord? Contrary to the effects of isolation and solitude, when you spiritually retreat, you aren’t bored and alone. You’re spending wondrous and meaningful time with your Creator. You aren’t hiding away from things that frighten you. You’re reaching out to a loving God who is waiting for you. You aren’t wasting precious time, longing for the day you can be free of this isolation. You’re spending precious moments with the One who chooses you, blesses you, and calls you to a life full of promise. When you retreat with the Lord, you are creating a spiritual practice that is rich and alive and full of hope. 

A retreat is an opportunity to come away to a safe, sacred space to reflect on your relationship with your Loving Creator. To listen for the still, small voice of God. To welcome the Lord into every moment of your life. Refreshed and renewed by God’s gentle grace, you will leave a time of retreat affirmed by God’s unconditional love, ready to continue your faith journey and to answer the call of God, wherever it may lead.

I usually recommend going away to attend a retreat—for a weekend, an afternoon, or even an hour-long program at your church or local retreat center. It makes such a difference to go away to another place, where you can open yourself to God’s whispers without the distractions of all that you leave behind. But we’ve learned from the pandemic that this isn’t always possible. And so I want you to know that it can be just as meaningful to engage in a spiritual retreat in the comfort (and safety!) of your own home. Watching a short YouTube video on a spiritual topic can be a retreat. Spending intentional time in prayer or reflection can be a retreat. Taking a walk in the woods can be a retreat. Even reading this blog post can be a retreat!

So I invite you to join me these next few weeks—whether you have chosen to stick close to home or not—to make January a time of retreating with the Lord. Let this be a time of searching and deep contemplation. Allow your soul to become a sanctuary where God’s love dwells and abides. Let your spirit respond to the spark of creation and mystery.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when doing this:

RETREAT WITH INTENTION

Set aside time for your retreat practice. Make it a sacred promise. Choose a regular day that you can devote to spending some much-needed time with the Lord. Be faithful to that time.

SET THE SCENE OR CREATE A RITUAL 

Make your retreat time different from your “usual” time of being home on your own. Use candles, music, or other sensory rich practices to bring you away from your daily activities into this rich and sacred time with God.

BEGIN WITH A PRAYER

Dear Lord, as I enter into this sacred time, may I feel surrounded by your loving presence. In the quiet stillness may I hear You speak to me. In Your loving embrace, may I be restored.

REFLECT ON YOUR POST-RETREAT INSIGHTS

Keep a journal to jot down any thoughts or inspirations that came to you during your retreat. Or call a friend or family member and share your insights with them. Look for patterns or recurring themes in your notes. That is what God most wants you to hear!

As your spiritual practice takes root in your heart, it’s my hope that you can reclaim the idea of “retreat” as a positive practice and not a lonely necessity. Let this first month of the New Year be filled with hope, possibility, and wonder.

​​Background photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

An Advent Prayer

Loving God, 
as we draw closer to that Holy Night 
The night of our Savior’s birth
We are filled with questions: 
Why did you come?
What did you come here to do? 
What does your coming mean for us today?

You came to serve. To feed the hungry. To heal the sick. 
To humble yourself to serve the very least of us.
Come, Lord Jesus! Help us remember that by serving 
Our brothers and sisters, we are serving you.
Teach us to use our talents and strengths 
To help those most in need
This season and all seasons

You came to comfort and to give rest to the weary.
To carry our burdens and give us peace from worry and fear.
Come, Lord Jesus! May our homes, our hearts
And our very presence offer comfort to those 
Who are worn out and stretched thin. 
May we offer them a kind word, a soft smile, 
And a warm heart.

You came to show mercy. To teach us to 
Forgive as we have been forgiven.
Come, Lord Jesus! May your radical mercy show us 
How to soften our hearts to those who have caused us hurt. 
Teach us by your example to forgive 
Even the deepest wounds
And to set ourselves free.

Above all, You came to love 
and to teach us how to love.
This Great Commandment gives us everything we could ever need.
Come, Lord Jesus! By your example, 
May we hold one another close this Christmas season.  
Close in our thoughts, in our hearts, in our words, and in our deeds. 
May we love by your example.
Come, Lord Jesus! AMEN.

Hearing God’s Whisper ministry wishes you a very Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year!

Finding Jesus in the Present

A few months ago, when I was struggling with anxious feelings caused by our nasty and unwelcome friend – the Delta variant – a colleague recommended I start learning about mindfulness as a way to stay focused on the present, so I wouldn’t worry so much about the future. I embraced this idea. Being alive to the present moment wasn’t always easy, but as I got better at tuning into the small details of what surrounded me in each moment, I began to see beauty, calm, and the finer details of the world around me and within me. I began a daily practice of meditating, taking walks outside, and breathing deeply until my racing thoughts subsided.

As fall stretched toward winter, and we began to approach the season of Advent, I assumed I would have to put away my mindfulness practices for a while so I could turn my thoughts to the themes of Advent – hope, peace, love, and joy.  I would need to switch to new daily practices to really do justice to this beautiful season.

As you can probably guess, I was very wrong about this! Mindfulness—the practice of being alive to the present moment—is the perfect mindset for Advent.

Advent means “coming”—and during this season we anticipate the coming of Christ in three ways. First, we await his coming as the baby Jesus, born on Christmas Day. Next, we consider the time when Christ will come again at the end of the world. And finally, in between those two events, we have the coming of Jesus into our lives each day.  It is this third one that I find myself drawn to these days, and it often becomes the most hidden aspect of Advent. Jesus comes to us every moment of our lives, but do we always recognize His presence?

Each and every moment that we live is an opportunity to encounter God. Jesus is present in the smallest details. But we have to be aware, alert, and awake to notice.

Advent is a time for being awake, and we are called to reflect on the ways we may have been “sleeping” in our lives. When we get lost in regrets of the past or worries about the future, we are in many ways asleep to all that is happening around us. This is exactly how I had been behaving in late summer with all my fears about what the future would bring. I was missing a lot of very good and important things that were happening all around me!  

This is not to say that every moment in the present will be joyful. In the words of Henri Nouwen: “God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful and painful.” We may have troubles that exist in our present moment, but that doesn’t mean we need to pile on with potential troubles that “may” happen in the future. Fearing the future can lead us to doubt God’s love. Remaining firmly rooted in the present lets us feel God’s love—through joy or pain.

Every moment you spend with God, you are living in the Light. When we are present to that Light, we are ready to answer God’s call. We will see and hear what we are being called to do from moment to moment. We don’t have to worry about the future because the beauty of God’s love is evident in all that we see around us.  

So I don’t really need to set aside my daily mindful practices this Advent season. Instead, I will invite Jesus to meet me there. When I’m breathing deeply I will call forth my own moment of Divine creation when God breathed the breath of life into my nostrils. When I take a walk, I will imagine that Jesus is walking beside me, pointing out all the wonders of creation in my path. When I meditate, I will soak in God’s presence and allow myself to be filled up with the love that can only be found in the coming of Christ. 

Wishing you a blessed and holy Advent season. May your spirit be alive to each precious moment!

Background photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Message in a Bottle

Seashells on beach

A friend of mine describes Cape Cod as her “happy place.” Memories of fun and relaxing summer vacations bring her a sense of peace she can’t find anywhere else. She often remarked that a week every summer was not enough time to capture that feeling and tide her over for the remaining 51 weeks. One day at a souvenir shop, she bought a fancy glass bottle with the words “Cape Cod Air” painted on the side. When she was back home—feeling stressed, anxious, or worried—she would uncork the bottle and take a quick whiff, feeling the tension immediately leave her body. Now…my friend is not naive. She knew it was impossible to actually trap Cape Cod air in a bottle and transport it home. But the ritual of holding the bottle in her hand, taking her mind back to peaceful times, and imagining that she was there again…it worked.

I’m a firm believer in the power of symbol and ritual in our spiritual lives. Using the five senses to create a connection to the Divine can have an amazing effect on our state of mind and our emotional well being. Many church services are filled with symbols and rituals to help us experience God in our midst. A document called “People of Ritual” by the Brisbane Catholic Education Offices states, “All Catholic ritual is founded on the belief that God is present and revealed in the world and, in a particular and powerful way, through Jesus. This means that God is revealed and encountered in the real and tangible moments of everyday life.”

So many of us are still cut off from our places of worship where we normally experience the rituals that bring us close to God. But that doesn’t mean we have to live without them. Most of what I write about spirituality focuses on finding God in ordinary moments, every day experiences, and common objects. We can create our own symbols and rituals to remind us that God is present and all around us. If you learn to look for God in the everyday events of your life, you’ll realize that you can never be separated from God, no matter what might be happening in the world.

Having just spent four glorious days on Cape Cod with my family, I took my friend’s advice and decided to create my own “bottle” of peace and calm. I spent my vacation collecting shells from the beach, and on the morning we left, I scooped up a few handfuls of soft white sand into a plastic bag. When I got home, I spent a quiet afternoon, painting some of the shells and layering the sand and shells into a glass bottle. I typed up the following quote on a little piece of paper and rolled it up to place in the bottle: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Message in a Bottle

I will use my “message in a bottle” to remind me that God is stronger than any of my fears. That I am not alone in my worries. That I have the peace of Christ to carry me through. The bottle now sits on my desk where it can be a constant symbol of God’s presence in my life.

I encourage you to create your own symbol or ritual to remind you of these same truths. You don’t have to be an artist. Fill a bottle or a shoe box with items that make you feel connected to God. A pressed flower. A treasured photograph. A prayer book. A piece of sea glass. Anything that helps you remember that God is present in the “real and tangible moments of everyday life.” Create a mini-chapel in a corner of your house where you can place these objects and look at them often. Turn to these symbols whenever you’re feeling “troubled” and “afraid” and be reminded of God’s overwhelming presence in our lives. We are surrounded by the Divine every day and in every way.

AMEN!

To Be Full of Confidence

Canoe

If you’re like me, you may not be feeling too confident about a lot of things right now. You’re not confident that schools will reopen or stay open, or various leaders will make the right decisions to keep communities safe. You’re not confident that everyone in your community will abide by public safety measures to protect one another. You’re not confident that you’ll keep your job or stay healthy. Perhaps most importantly, you’re not confident that you’ll be able to handle all this stress, fear, and uncertainty!

There’s a Hebrew word “batach” that means “to be full of confidence.” Not a tentative feeling of hope, but a bold sense of well-being that comes with placing our trust in God. A sense of security that never fully comes when we place our trust in things of this Earth…in our own actions, in other people, in institutions, or in material possessions.

In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
(Psalm 22:4)

Batach encourages us to ask the question: “Who’s really the captain of this ship?” It’s such a temptation to believe that we’re in control of our own destiny. The entire “American Dream” was founded on this belief. We are in charge! But what happens—as we saw this winter, spring, and summer with the horrifying spread of the coronavirus pandemic—when something happens to upend our carefully laid out plans? Something we did not expect and did not prepare for? We feel shaken. 

I have only been in a canoe once in my life. I hated the feeling of stepping into the shaky canoe and trying to gain my own balance while balancing the rocking canoe at the same time. (It didn’t hurt that during my one and only trip, my sister and I capsized the canoe trying to take a turn too sharply!) Nothing about the experience left me feeling in control and it was easier to never step foot in a canoe again. I chose the safety of my feet on solid ground.

What would it take to boldly place our trust in God? It’s tempting to resist this feeling of not being in control. But actually, it’s incredibly liberating! God is the “captain” of our ship and loves us unconditionally and is working for good in our lives. God can be trusted. Batach is the knowledge that God is leading us to our destiny and our only job is to follow.

What you put in God’s hands is safe. God can go where you can’t go. So why not put your life in God’s hands and let go of the need to control? If we relinquish our tight-fisted control over our own lives, we will achieve inner peace. When we put our trust and belief in something greater than ourselves, our world will open up in new ways.

The next time you get that scared or panicky feeling because you don’t know what’s going to happen in your life or in the world, take a deep breath and repeat the word “batach.” Imagine yourself placing the worry or uncertainty in God’s hands. Keep doing this until you feel more and more confident that God really is in control. It won’t eliminate the uncertainty from your life, but it will give you the calm sense of confidence that you can face whatever comes, because you won’t be facing it alone.

Blue Skies Above

blue skies

When was the last time you experienced a day free from worries? A day when you had a spring in your step, there was not a cloud in the sky, the birds were singing and all seemed well with the world. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Our world just isn’t that sunny right now. The COVID-19 pandemic still grows in many states. Racial inequality continues to reveal itself in our society. The economy has people worried about losing jobs, paying rent, or affording school. These are some REALLY dark clouds; there’s no use pretending otherwise. But amidst the darkness, there’s something else we need to acknowledge.

“Above the clouds the sky is always blue.”
 – St. Therese of Lisieux

Perhaps you’ve heard the commonly told metaphor about the airplane that ascends through thick, turbulent clouds and eventually breaks through above the clouds to brilliant blue skies and dazzling sunshine. It was up there the whole time. The passengers on the plane learn something that those on the ground may have trouble believing. Above the clouds the sky is always blue.

For those of us on the ground right now, it seems like those blue skies are very, very far away. Feeling bogged down with worries last week, I decided I needed to see the ocean. Feeling spontaneous and free, my husband and I hopped in the car and drove to the shore, only to realize as we got closer that the overcast sky was not going away, and instead producing a steady drizzle. I almost cried in frustration and disappointment. It felt like a sign that my worries were justified. My always patient husband convinced me to wait it out a little while. We took a leisurely drive through the shore towns and returned to the beach just in time for the rain to stop. The clouds were still there, but we were able to walk, swim, and breathe in the ocean air. It was just what I needed. I learned two important lessons from my beach trip that morning.

GOD IS ALWAYS WITH US

Just as the presence of clouds doesn’t mean the sun is gone, dark times in our lives do not mean that God is absent. As I was writing this reflection yesterday afternoon, it was another dark and cloudy day. The clouds were so thick that I had to turn on the lights in my house. At that moment it was hard to imagine a brilliant sun was still up there shining in the sky. But it was. God is always there, loving us, holding us up, and gifting us with grace. It requires faith—sometimes LOTS and LOTS of faith—to believe this, especially when there is so much suffering around us. We must trust in God and believe that God is working in our lives.

GRATITUDE IS ESSENTIAL

The second lesson I learned is that the sun may not come out exactly when we want it to. Patience is required. The darkness can linger, but it is easier to bear if we approach it with gratitude. Look for things to be grateful for despite the clouds…or even because of the clouds. Cloudy days have something to teach us. There are lessons to be learned about love, life, and faith. Even in the dark, there is so much light around us. 

I believe in my heart that things will get better in our world. By putting our trust in science, honest leaders, and the fundamental goodness in humanity, the clouds will pass, and we will see blue skies again. We are learning lessons through this time of turbulence that will change the way we treat one another, the way we treat our planet, the way we take care of ourselves in body, mind, and spirit. Most importantly, many of us are learning a new way to trust in God.

“Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. The same Eternal Father who takes care of you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day of your life. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.”
-Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) 

Happy Color pic

The Watering Can

Watering can

Since the COVID-19 outbreak first came to the United States months ago, how much time have you spent caring for others? Raise your hand if you’re doing (or have done) any of the following:

  • Working through the shutdown as an essential healthcare, transportation, grocery, or sanitation worker
  • Buying groceries for an elderly parent, relative, or neighbor
  • Running errands for someone who is under quarantine
  • Helping your children navigate online learning when schools were shut down this spring
  • Putting in long hours figuring out how to provide online learning to your students
  • Cooking meals around the clock for a house full of family stuck at home
  • Volunteering for local social services such as food banks, shelters, etc.
  • Showing up to march in protest for the equal rights of your black brothers and sisters
  • Sewing masks or collecting PPE to support your local hospitals or nursing homes
  • Providing connection and care to those who are lonely and isolated in quarantine
  • Talking to friends, children, or siblings who are scared and anxious and trying to help them work through their fears

Let me take a moment to tell you that you are wonderful! You are doing God’s work in caring for others during a time of crisis, and your work is appreciated. Today I would like you to reflect on this important question: How much of yourself are you giving away? Is this constant taking care of others taking its toll on your spirit? You can’t become so busy caring for others that your spiritual life suffers. Your relationship with God is the foundation that supports everything else. You can’t be the best YOU without it!

Think of yourself as a watering can. Every time you care for someone, you pour out a little bit of water to nurture them. What happens when the watering can is empty? What are you doing to refill it? Are you taking time to rest? Are you taking time to sit in the stillness and feel the presence of God all around you? Are you praying, meditating, taking long walks in nature, playing your favorite spiritual music, or finding other ways to connect with God?

Re-filling your watering can has to be a commitment. You can’t wait around for the time to present itself. With the state the world is in right now, it might not happen anytime soon. The work of caring for others never ends. There’s always one more thing you can do. Let it be a gift you give to yourself—making the conscious decision to stop and fill up your watering can in whatever way works best for you.

The good news is, you don’t have to do this alone. I’m sure you have someone in your life —a friend or family member—that you can always count on to lift your spirits. No matter how hard your day is, how tired or stressed you are, when you’re with that person, they make you feel good. That’s what God can and should be for you when your watering can is empty. Allow yourself to rest in God. To be refreshed by the peace and joy that can only come from God.

Then you will be ready to be poured out once again.

What We Have is Enough

hydrangea

All my life I’ve been in love with hydrangeas. Huge beautiful flowers in gorgeous colors that reflect the ocean and the sky. They remind me of lazy days on vacation at Cape Cod and endless summer afternoons. I always dreamed I would one day live in a house with rows of hydrangea bushes in dazzling colors. 

Well…I’ve been in my house for 20 years and I had more failed attempts at growing hydrangeas than I could count. Admittedly, I’m not the world’s best gardener, and for whatever reason they  just wouldn’t grow in my yard. I had all but given up, when five years ago my in-laws gave me a beautiful hydrangea bush for Mother’s Day. This one did well! It grew stronger and fuller every year, with healthy green leaves and bountiful blooms. Granted, it wasn’t the overflowing garden of many hydrangeas I once dreamed about, but I decided it would be enough. 

This one hydrangea bush would be enough, and I would love it fiercely.

This summer, for some reason, my beloved hydrangea bush only produced one solitary bloom. I was so disappointed! Like so many of you, I’d been stuck at home for months during the quarantine, with nothing to look at but my front yard and my back yard. I had been looking forward to seeing the hydrangea bloom in full glory this summer.  

So I had another decision to make. I could continue to focus on the lack of blooms—on what my garden was lacking—or I could decide that my one bloom was enough. And so that’s what I did. I’m loving that bloom fiercely.

Best-selling author Melanie Beattie once wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.” It is absolutely true that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken so much from us. Time with our loved ones, moments of celebration with family and classmates, liturgies in our churches, proms, graduations, hugs. It’s completely understandable to have a hard time letting go of all that we’ve lost and are still losing. However, a constant focus on what we lack can lead us to overlook what we already have. 

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
(1 John 4:16).

With God we have more love than we could ever imagine. Abundant, overflowing, excessive, bountiful, crazy amounts of love. After that, everything else is just a bonus.

There are always going to be things we don’t have enough of. Not enough sleep. Not enough time. Not enough money. Not enough help around the house. And yes, not enough hydrangeas. But if we look within, and bask in God’s love, we’ll realize that we have enough of what truly matters.

I challenge you today to gently turn your thoughts away from all that you are lacking, and focus on one solitary thing that you do have. Whatever it may be—a delicious meal, a phone call with a friend, a restorative nap, a tomato you grew in your garden, a cuddle with your pet—treasure that experience. And love it fiercely. 

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)