Sunday, October 24, 2010

Holding My Breath

In the course of his homily this weekend, our dear little Sicilian priest made reference to the Holy Spirit inspiring us to pray. The point he made was that Jesus was a man of prayer, and we are called to be prayerful, as well, after his example. I am a much better reader than listener, just as I am a better writer than speaker. Father's point was well made, and well taken, but it sent my mind wandering because of his use of the word "inspiration."

I have been toying with the concept of inspiration in my mind for a long time. I have been particularly drawn to the fact that the same word is used medically to refer to indrawn breath. The parallel is intriguing, isn't it? The Holy Spirit, the breath of God, gives us wisdom, understanding, fortitude, counsel, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. That same Spirit incites faith, discernment, and manifests the charismatic and miraculous through us. It bears fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Without it, we would cease to be, just as our lives end when we cease to draw breath. Without inspiration, we die.

There's another element here, too, that expands on Father's point. When we take in breath, we also have to let it out. Keep taking in breaths without exhaling, and you will eventually hyperventilate and pass out. I learned this well as a singer: even if you let out SOME of what's in your lungs, you can still get dizzy, see spots, and crash into the piano. You must exhale completely so that you can inhale new, fresh air (inspiration!) and continue. You must be obedient to the design of your respiratory system, or suffer the consequences. In the same way, we must be obedient to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He inspires us - to pray, to speak, to write, to be still - and we must. We can chose not to respond for a while, but eventually, the "breath" will become stale and useless, we'll lose consciousness, and it will escape. Very likely, it will escape loudly but unintelligibly. In my experience, it's far less amusing than crashing into a piano.

In singing, you correct the problem of inefficient breathing by learning to relax and breathe fully, keeping an open and unrestricted airway. It takes a lot of mental energy to do this at first; it requires intense concentration on a process that involves the mind and body on a much broader scale than just "regular" breathing. But it gets easier. Eventually, breathing this way becomes second nature. It doesn't require concentration or focus, but rather facilitates concentration and focus on other things. I suppose it stands to reason that the same is true of the Holy Spirit's inspiration, as well. When inspired to pray, we need to pray. When inspired to speak, we need to speak. When inspired to be silent (that's a gargantuan task for me!), we need to be silent. The design demands obedience in order to function. And while it may require considerable concentration and focus at first, it eventually becomes (closer to) second nature as we are transformed in His image. And friends, pray for me. I need to really be mindful and grow in this area. There are three pianos in my house.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Oh yes, I did!

"No, you didn't," you might say to me, especially if you know me well. But I did. I absolutely did. I walked out of the grocery store with a full cart, turned it to the parking lot, took a running start and jumped onto the back. It wasn't completely childish; I looked for moving cars first. But for a few seconds, I was just flying - feeling the crisp October breeze in my face, feet dangling as I supported my weight with my arms on the cart handle. I did it, and it was completely exhilarating.

What strikes me as odd about my little adventure is how long it has stayed with me. I was a little giddy...a little giggly about it for several hours afterward. It still makes me grin, and close my eyes to feel the wind in my memory. It was a simple, unadulterated joy, it is now more than a week old, and it is still buoying my soul in the choppy waters of life. Life as a stay-at-home mom (there's a misnomer if ever I've heard one!) is always crazy. Run this one here or there, feed this, change that, cook this, wash that, collapse and repeat. It's easy to feel pulled under...swept away...gasping for air. I somehow forgot that simple pleasures can go a long, long way, spilling sunshine into cloudy days, and providing shelter from the squalls that pop up from time to time. Laughter can reset any mood, October sunshine can penetrate any dark corner, and even a short "flight" can renew your perspective. Next experiment: skipping!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

To Find a New Way... do everything. Well, at least in matters of faith, it seems like everything. I find myself fumbling around of late, like a fish out of water. It seems a little strange. It could just be a bump in the road, or growing pains, or a self-examination brought on by my recent change in demographic. (I'm no longer a 'young adult'...the 18-34 bracket is a thing of the past.) And it's really not even a new problem. It's just at the front of my awareness these days, gnawing at the corners of my conscience.

I used to know how to pray. I used to make a habit of spending intimate time with the Lord. That intimacy was mind-driven. I chose to make time to read, to study, to meditate. I chose to spend that time so that I could be prepared for the rest of my life...influences, interactions, activities and the like. I was front-loaded, if you will.

But now, I find that my mind needs to follow action. Instead of actions being born out of a mind willfully focused and directed to the things of God, they are immediate responses to the events and people in my world. More often than not, I have no control over them, and tend to feel buffeted about, nervous and unsure of myself. Not a good place to be as a wife and mother. Somehow, I have to find my sanity and my devotion in the midst of activity, rather than bringing it ready-made into the tasks of my day. For me, it's like learning to live backwards.

Even in matters of personal discipline, this is true. With a husband and six busy sons, I cannot choose silence on those days when I don't feel like playing nice. I cannot choose to walk away from an argument or tense situation. There is no "stop, breathe, and pray." There is no waiting for clarity and wisdom. There are only situations that must be handled immediately; waiting can make the difference between a minor tiff and a full-blown fight. What is at first a child with a marker can be a completely re-decorated room in a very short time. And I am decidedly in over my head.

Needing to feel front-loaded with my spiritual life stems from a need for vigilance. We all need to be vigilant - to be mindful of our words and actions and keep them in check. But my natural inclination is not to be good. Temper, language, relationships...I react first, think after the fact. It's rather a dangerous temperament for a wife and mother. My world of droolers, ketchup-eaters, and back-talkers demands gentleness and wisdom, forgiveness and forbearance. But at the same time, time to weigh responses and think through the possible consequences of words and actions is an un-affordable luxury. It seems like the perfect storm...the perfect teapot for a wickedly destructive tempest.

It's tempting to chastise myself for making too much of my role here. And I would be right to do so in the "real world." But in the small society of my husband and our children, the impact of my words and actions is immeasurable. It is at once an awesome and terrifying role, with repercussions going far beyond what I can see here and now as I watch my little ones on their way to manhood. It is terrifying to imagine that what I say or don't say to one of them can impact them for the rest of their lives. What's a mother to do?

Today, I don't have any answers. Just a hasty prayer for heaven to protect us from all harm, no matter where it may come from and what form it may take. And a desperately cherished wish that a quiet, thoughtful place will come find me at the sink or under a mountain of laundry and give me courage and strength for whatever lies ahead.