The Grace of Breath

You can watch the above video if you click the “Watch on YouTube” link – for some reason I cannot embed it.

An NPR report this week explains scientifically the medical benefits of breathing (“Just Breathe: Body Has a Built-In Stress Reliever”, Morning Edition, December 6th 2010), especially as a means of reducing stress.  Focused, deep breathing is not only relaxing, but scientific evidence shows that it can benefit the heart, brain, digestion, and the immune system.  After describing these benefits, the report concludes, “And the best part is all the ingredients are free and literally right under your nose.”

This report reminds me of one of my favorite songs released in the last ten years:  “Breathe” by U2 (from No Line on the Horizon, 2009).  The two verses of this song capture the chaotic dissonance of modern life as we move throughout our days bombarded with messages of gloom and of the need to buy and spend to gain happiness and protect ourselves.  The lyrics are more rapped than sung in an irregular rhythm to convey the stressful cacophony of these messages.  The chorus breaks through resoundingly into this chaos with an inspiring, even defiant, melody sung to a soothing, regular cadence:

Walk out into the street
With your heart out
The people we meet
Will not be drowned out
There’s nothing you have that I need
I can breathe!
Breathe now!

“Breathe” is a metaphor, I believe, for grace.  Grace is a gift that cannot be purchased and once received lost.  The ability to breathe life-giving air is given freely to all and cannot be controlled by the marketplace:  it is not nor should be a commodity to be bought and sold.  In our media-exhausted lifestyles, we are constantly receiving impressions on our souls of fear and want which are the motivators of economic decisions.  The goal of advertising, after all, is to make us aware and insecure about deficiencies in our lives and convince us to believe that buying such and such will make us complete.  Maybe this is reason why the Christmas holidays have become the most stressful time of the year for so many:  it is the season when we are most bombarded by the message:  “You need what we have to be happy, to be approved, to be accepted.”  We rush around frantically responding to this message.

This song provides a simple, liberating reply:  “There’s nothing you have that I need.  I can breathe.”  It affirms a simple truth:  life, and the ingredients needed to sustain it, is a gift.   The act of a deep, relaxing breath reminds us of this basic reality, a reality that the Christmas story wondrously affirms:  in the lowly manger, we see God’s greatest gift to the world, the gift of His Son who offers to “whosoever believes in Him” the grace of forgiveness and eternal life.

Whenever you feel stressed and perplexed, especially this Christmas season, pause often to Breathe and remember that life, physical and eternal, is a gift from God.

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