While at a party a few months ago, I was reminded of the technique wind instrument players use to sustain long musical phrases. How do they maintain the artistic tone for so long, maybe minutes in duration, seemingly without inhaling? Do they become experts at swimming under water first, expanding lung capacity and practicing relaxation to slow oxygen consumption? Do they hope the player to the right or left breathes at a different moment than they do just as choir directors teach choral groups? Do hours in the practice room give them superhuman lungs like Aquaman?
The experienced woodwind artist knows the secret. Somewhere in his or her training, the artist learns how to turn the mouth into a bagpipe. She masters the ability to draw in air through the nose while blowing out air through the mouth. The velocity of air from the cheeks persists through the instrument to extend beauty and wonder while the body is refreshed with vital respiration through the nostrils. Without circular breathing the music stops too soon, one way or another. Here is Kenny G’s two minute primer on circular breathing.
In ministry it is not uncommon to find yourself winded, nearly out of breath and feeling faint. The demands of family and ministry can challenge our capacity. How does one live in the presence of God’s beauty and wonder when deadlines pile up? When does joy counterbalance obligation? When does expanding capacity lighten burdensome expectations and the uncertainties of the unknown?
In Hebrews 1:3 and 6:1, the writer uses the same word, “phero,” to indicate God’s sustaining grace through Christ. Christ is brought alongside to sustain all that there is (Christ’s role in creation from the beginning) in chapter one so we can drive forward toward perfection (like a ship driving before the wind, suggests Bill Mounce) in chapter six. Christ not only sustains. Christ propels. For mere mortals like us, Christ comes alongside, teaching us to persist and flourish. Our learning curve entails mastering the formational techniques of brief inhalations so we can more easily develop an ability to move beyond survival to supernaturally enlarged aptitude.
You would not be in ministry without first developing the ability to draw on God’s Spirit. In intense weeks, breathe. Find short periods for inhaling grace, maybe through brief moments of oxygenating solitude or the hyperbaric chamber of community. A rejuvenating rest period will come soon. For now, allow your soul to practice circular breathing as the music of the Spirit continues through your life. Even when facing the prevailing claims on your schedule, Christ walks alongside and propels you forward. Yearning for rest reflects the imprint of God’s image on us. We are created to breathe deeply. In between those seasons, we live in the “pace of grace” (Susan Muto) confident that Christ teaches us to breathe, one way or another.
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Heb. 1:1-4 NRSV)
“Therefore let us go on toward perfection [maturity], leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation…” (Heb 6:1a NRSV)