I recently jotted down a few lines from Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. Describing the honeysuckle and magnolia blossoms in her Atlanta neighborhood, she writes: “All these earthly goods were medicine for what ailed me, evidence that the same God who had breathed the world into being was still breathing.”
Generally, I imagine the act of divine creation as an over and done deal. God spoke. God breathed. Past tense.
Taylor’s words offer the best kind of literary shock: the shock of confronting a truth we know but have never really considered. A truth that suddenly appears, not only obvious, but vitally important.
Reading these few words, everything in me responds, “Yes, of course.” For creation, the very breath of God, continues to unfurl every moment.
I hear a whispered breath in the utterly unique daily bloom of my morning glory vine. Each morning a new flower or two. There is also my own breath. Inhalation and exhalation require no act of decision or effort on my part. I can’t claim them. They are given to me, again and again, whether I think of them or not.
This moment by moment gift of breath would seem to be unadulterated good news, but, for me, it is also a source of fear. I grew up with asthma, can still feel that whistling wheeze in my chest, and when my own son struggles to breathe I feel, not only empathy, but fear. I can’t take breathing for granted, and my personal phobias are all rooted in this fact. Some people fear spiders or heights. For me, it’s something innocuous like scuba diving. Each breath measured from a tank, and a weight of water on my shoulders: this is someone’s idea of a vacation, but it feels like a nightmare to me.
It is only when I consider the character of the gift-giver (He is good. He is love. His plans are not to harm me.), that I can trade fear for peace. I cannot provide for myself the one thing I need most: breath. Fortunately, the one who can knows my needs better than I do and loves me more than I love myself. Even better, His love for my son swallows my own puny love. I can administer an inhaler and an epi-pen, but the God who made us, who loves us, who holds us, can breathe life.
In response, I breathe back my thanksgiving. Why do we sing our praises to God? As a friend(and talented musician) once shared with our church, we sing in order to give back to God that which he first gave us. Breath.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”
(Genesis 2: 7).