By Barb Arland-Fye
With a teenager in my household taking driver’s education, I catch my breath when he drives too close to the road’s edge or makes a wide turn.
I also catch my breath at the beauty of autumn’s trees with their crimson, burnt-orange and gold colors when I’m outdoors. God’s artwork is breathtaking to me.
Some of my favorite Scripture passages reference breathing: God breathing life into Adam and Eve; Jesus breathing on his disciples and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” observes that “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.”
Events of the past week have inspired a greater awareness of breathing and its myriad life-giving aspects.
In a book I’m reading, “The Road to Daybreak, A Spiritual Journey,” the late Father Henri Nouwen describes the breath of prayer he experienced in the prayer room of L’Arche in Trosely, France. L’Arche, founded by Jean Vanier, is a community where individuals with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.
“The unceasing silent prayer in the presence of the hidden God who gives himself completely to us in unlimited love is the breath that makes L’Arche possible,” he wrote. Even when Fr. Nouwen couldn’t pray, he would go to the prayer room “so that I can at least breathe air rich with prayer.” I’ve breathed air rich with prayer, whether silent or spoken, in chapels, churches and even in a soup kitchen.
An e-mail I received a few days ago spoke of the passing of the writer’s loved one, who breathed calmly to the end. The e-mail impressed on me the loved one’s trust in God.
I thought about the triumphant rescue of the 33 miners trapped nearly 2,500 feet below ground in Chile for 69 days. How deeply they must have breathed upon disembarking from the snug capsule that carried them safely back to the surface last week. A newspaper photograph showed one of the miners with hands folded in prayer, thanking God for his safe return. The breath of life, the miner acknowledged by his action, is a gift from God.
The infant on a prayer chain I am linked to continues to struggle for life with every breath she takes, but her will to live inspires me and serves as a reminder of God’s nearness.
Breathing slowly and deeply is an exercise our family practiced with our autistic son Colin when he was living at home and experiencing a bout of anxiety. Now he receives occasional reminders from his apartment staff about how to breathe when he’s stressed out.
But Sunday night, a perfect storm brewed, and no one in our family thought about breathing deeply and slowly. Despite the tension, we began praying the rosary, a family prayer tradition, before we dropped off Colin at his apartment. The recitation and repetition of the prayers breathed calmness into each of the four of us. What a blessing and a relief!
Now I’m praying I’ll be able to breathe calmly after Patrick has earned his driver’s license.