Category Archives: In Action
Take a Deeper Breath
I’m huffing and puffing my way up the steep rocky path toward the gorgeous mountain lakes my companion has promised lie ahead. It is Rocky Mountain National Park, after all. It’s no surprise that the air is thin, but this doesn’t hamper him. He lives a mile high and trains for triathlons in the parks, reservoirs and along the roads nearby.
“I could use a 10 second break,” I plead. He obliges and we step aside to let the nimble and altitude-acclimated bound on by. A few who pass by on their downward trek offer us an encouraging, “You’re doing great!”
As I pause, my friend says sympathetically and so simply, “I find it helps to take deeper breaths.”
At the suggestion, of course, I inhale a deep breath and then draw it deeper. And you know what? It worked! As we continued, when my breath quickened and my heart started to race on the steep parts, instead of huffing and puffing and pressing on so I wouldn’t seem like a wimp, I just expanded my lungs a bit deeper on each breath.
Deeper. Slower. Stronger. I’ve heard they call this combat breathing. I call it respite in the Rockies.
And, me being me, I find myself mind-meandering through my long-ago (and mostly far away) respiratory physiology classroom training. How does that work again? At higher altitude the partial pressure of O2 in the air and my lungs is lower… the sign at Pikes Peak said 60%, I believe, much lower than the 98% I am used to at sea level … which means that there is plenty of room for more O2 saturation in my blood stream. More inhalation means more air available which provides more O2 available to be exchanged. Right? And with lots more blood coursing through that pulmonary circulation thanks to my hardworking heart which was pumping fast and faster, my deeper breaths were DOing something!
Ok OK. Miraculous and scintillating as that science-speak is, what I am captured by as I look back on this trek that, yes, I survived, is the simplicity of “Take a Deeper Breath.” It reminds me…
You have reserves you don’t realize.
You have untapped flexibility and capacity you can call upon.
And BONUS! One good thing leads to another! Deeper breathing activates a whole (parasympathetic) neural reflex that triggers calming.
All this flies in the face of the push harder, exert more, breathe faster-shallower, hyperventilation scenario it seems our world inclines us to visit these days. Sure, quick, shallow breaths may work in a pinch (like in a panic attack) because, by allowing us to blow off extra CO2, they trick our brain into thinking we don’t need to breathe. Underwater divers make use of this at their own peril.
But we, the anxious lot of us, adopt it in error and to our own disadvantage. We need to breathe. And rather than shallow, we need to go deeper. Rather than faster, we need to go slower. Deeper. Slower. By choice.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
How much of my day is spent reacting and responding with faster, faster? How much more capacity would I find if I replaced shallower with deeper? Faster with slower? What if I trusted that My Maker had already provided the means for me to climb the mountain? Any mountain? If only I listened to the voice of my capable companion?
As we ascended and came nearer to the mountain lake, those returning from their trek greeted us with smiles and happy shouts of, “You’re almost there!” How can you not smile at encouragement like that?!
Oh and the vistas did NOT disappoint.
Take a deeper breath. So simple.
I wonder what other resources one might discover in listening and complying with the voice of Wisdom and Experience while we climb this steep, rocky path called life…
Making a Way in the Wilderness of Uncertainty
The way ahead looks grim. All options, exhausted. All choices, expended. Looking for clear direction but there is none to be found. If this sounds like you looking at today’s news or today’s climate predictions or today’s culture wars or any other of today’s intractable issues, I’d like us to go back in time. Back to a teetering moment when the Prophet Samuel shows us a way through such times. (If you’re not familiar with Samuel, have a look at the story told in 1 Samuel 16: 1-13.)
Surely things were at an impasse. The prophet Samuel, sent by God to choose Saul’s successor as King of Israel, had come ready to select from among Jesse’s sons. Seven capable, good-looking young men presented themselves: seven times God told Samuel “No,” cautioning him against judging according to their stature or outward appearance. But after seven sons came and went with nary a positive selection, their father Jesse must’ve been peeved.
I can just imagine him fuming. “Aren’t any of these good enough for you, Man of God?!”
I’ll tell you what I would have done, had I been in Samuel’s sandals. I would have taken a second look at those seven fine sons and, calling upon my snippets of Biblical education regarding “7” — 7 sons of Abraham (from the children’s song), 7 days of Creation (from Genesis), 7 is the complete number (from some authoritative Biblical concordance or commentary) — I would have convinced myself that perhaps I had missed God’s yes. Then, of my own accord, I would have told Jesse, “On second thought, I think … this one.” And right there and then I would have toppled from grace.
But Samuel, give him credit, trusted the word of the Lord he’d become accustomed to obeying and proffered a new way. “Jesse,” he asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”
And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? When the answer is not plain and, especially, when all the possible answers seem to have exhausted themselves, we tend to rely on our own experiences and resources. We fill the nervous silence with emotional angst and/or knee-jerk responses.
But how often do we do as Samuel did and wonder if we’re missing something? Such a simple question: “Are these all the sons you have?”
Turns out there was another son, the youngest, David who was tending the sheep. (Spoiler alert: He was the one!) David was summoned, and wouldn’t you know, “he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome?” (Apparently God does notice outward appearance.) But, we’re reminded, “the Lord does not see as mortals see, … the Lord looks on the heart.”
Perhaps in this moment, it wasn’t just the heart of David the Lord was looking on. Perhaps the heart the Lord was counting on belonged to Samuel. He was the kind who, even when it appeared all options had been exhausted, didn’t just dig deeper into his own capability. He trusted his instructions and the One who had given them and discerned another way. A new way, as the Prophet Isaiah phrases it, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
So many things feel to me like wilderness and wasteland right now I’m tempted to shout, Lord, show me this new thing! But I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that comes by shouting. I expect, it will more likely come by listening.
And, in the way of a perfect ending to a well-crafted story, the way will be clear in a “why-didn’t-we-see-that-in-the-first-place?” sort of way.
What is the question?
Prayer: Lord, we come to you today, confessing our inability to resolve many of the difficulties we face. Hold us fast, we pray. Help us to look, listen and trust. Even when we don’t see a way in our wilderness, you have already made one. Show us the way that’s waiting to declare itself to us; that’s waiting to welcome us; that’s waiting for us to choose it. Then, Father, grant us the courage to walk into it. Amen
The Good we can do… together
Have you ever read the parable of the Good Samaritan? Yeah, me, too. At least a billion times. Well, nearly.
But I’m not sure I understood it until today.
When my twenty-something daughter, who has traveled to Berlin on a Fulbright award, contacted me to say, “Mom, I’m getting ready to go to the Berlin central train station… to bring stuff for the Ukrainian refugees coming in, who are mostly women and children. If anyone wants to contribute you can send me money to get some more stuff. Here’s the items they need right now.”
And I looked at that list. And I cried. Some things are listed as “urgent.” Some things are “just important.” baby bottles. wipes. diapers. shampoos. detergents. hand cream. combs and hairbrushes. panty liners and tampons. lip balm. toothpaste. shower gel. disinfectant. coloring books. matchbox cars. plushies. sketch books. stickers. URGENT.
Oh, please someone buy so many sketch books and plushies.
The former me thought that it was a cop out just to send cash. Today’s me is waking up to a world that needs all I have to offer. Whatever I have to offer.
Oh, but that Good Samaritan from Luke, Chapter 10, on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho … he set a very high bar. he stopped to help the man who had been robbed and beaten and left half dead. He dressed his wounds. He transported the man to safety. where he took care of him. and then he could be cared for. and he could rest and recover. And, after covering expenses, he told the caregiver, whatever it costs, put it on my tab. I’ll be back to settle up the expenses.
When I read the parable of the Good Samaritan, I “hear” this is what you need to be. This kind of good neighbor. who does it all, going above and beyond for his neighbor, whom he doesn’t even know.
Today, I am a continent away from one who needs my help. Who needs me to stop and look, treat their wounds, attend to their needs, deliver them to safety, ensure their care, and provision them for the journey.
All I can offer is, “any expense you have, I will reimburse.” But my understanding today says, that is enough. Because I know someone, who by the happenstance of circumstances, can provide for the one who has need and can reimburse the innkeeper for the kindness he or she is administering.
I had always set the Good Samaritan as the highest of bars: Stop. treat. Deliver. Care. Provide. Reimburse. All of these in order to fulfill my obligations. The “what more must I do? clause.” By this standard the Kingdom is very far off and always will be.
But today, by the grace of God, and amidst the disgrace of mankind’s behavior to his own kind, I see the Good Samaritan not the work of just one man, but as the work of all of us together. For you who are bold enough and brave enough and whose circumstances have placed you in the midst of this fray, you can be the stoppers, the treaters, the deliverers, the carers. And may God bless you and protect you. We, whose circumstances place us at a distance, can be the providers, the reimbursers and surely, oh surely, the prayers of prayers.
Together, not alone, not separately, but all together, we can be The Good Samaritan: not just proclaimers, but demonstrators, purveyors and benefactors of those who are being the Good News. News you can believe and believe in. Because you see it in living color. In the person next to you. In the one far from you. And inexorably in the deepest version of you.
Together, let’s believe the good news of the gospel as we live it out.
In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.