Monday, June 27, 2016

like breathing in and out at the same time



If only you could breathe in and out at the same time, she said, followed by mention of someone we all knew who claimed they could do it. A few of us laughed or called her bluff while she experimented with her breath to figure out how it was done. The rest of us joined in, laughter muffled in the breath we held in our puffed-out cheeks, trying to figure out how to use our noses, too.

The context for this experiment was swimming. The weekend before, my friends had been trying to do as many rounds of front-flip-back-flip as they could without coming up for air. Holding your breath longer, or having a renewable source of breath, means you can stay under water longer.

Back in my living room, we all kept trying to perform those two opposing actions (in and out) at the same time. In the end, all we did was hold our breath, then let it out with relief. Impossible, we all agreed.

***

I told my friend this story when we talked on the phone. Sometimes breathing just requires focus, she said, as if she believed it could be possible.

***

Some time before all this, that familiar whisper came as I prayed. Psalm 37, it prompted, and I promptly turned to it, eager to be spoken to. A few verses in, I read that one verse that I avoid because it has always been so problematic. And he will give you the desires of your heart, is how it ends, which makes receiving seem dependent on the action that is mentioned earlier: Delight yourself in the Lord. The desire of my heart - the one I'd been praying about at the very moment the seed of that psalm was dropped into my palms - seemed far off, risky to ask for, unlikely and maybe, in the end, unholy.

That verse kept coming. It popped up everywhere. In a card from my mother, in a text from a friend, on the screen of my Bible app. One could say that the verse is bound to keep coming up because we sentimental Christians love the sweet simplicity of that do this, receive what you want mentality. It is an overused verse.

But it is anything but simple. If delighting in God is knowing Him as one who is just and forever good and eternally good-intentioned, then how do I go on delighting when the desire goes unfulfilled? Do I ignore the desire and assume it wasn't mine to ask for? Did the psalmist even mean give as in fulfill, or is it to signify origination (I will show your heart how to desire). A few weeks later God said to me that he is the giver of the desire, so don't I think he'll fill it? But even now my hands are still holding nothing but the seed of this verse. And what happens if I am being asked to go on desiring but not the specific thing anymore? A desire empty of specifics can feel like a gaping hole, an endless sea.

It feels like breathing in and out at the same time, I told my friend on the phone. Confounding, is what I meant.

***

Sometimes breathing requires focus, I remember, readying my heart for deep dive, wondering how long I can stay under, and if I'll get to the other shore.

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