Thinking about air

Every Sunday evening at my church, we have a gathering called “Living in Grace” — a chance to meet for dessert and faith-related conversation bookended by Holden Evening Prayer. Lately, we’ve been watching a series of videos by Animate Faith; this last Sunday, we watched one about the purpose of the church. The speaker asserted that one of the reasons the church struggles is that we see it as many things — social club, hospital, spiritual retreat, etc. — things that are centered around us and our needs, rather than centered around God. We noted that, ironically, after making this point, the speaker quickly wandered off of it to other things.

It’s difficult to be centered around God. We are told that God is close, but that God’s ways are not our ways, that God’s ways are higher than our ways. We glimpsed God in a frail human frame — alive as we are alive, loving, suffering, dying — but then we are told that before time was, God is, that even this aspect of God that took on flesh is the vessel through whom and for whom all things were made. How can you focus on the source of all creation without getting sidetracked just thinking about that creation? How can we conceive of God without understanding God in our own, limited, mortal terms?

It occurred to me that trying to hold onto our slippery concepts of God is a little like trying to think about air. Air is something we’re rarely conscious of — it’s invisible and all around us everywhere we go, every second of every moment of every day. We count spaces filled with air as empty spaces, forgetting that air *is* there — a composition of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other stuff that very much exists. Even when we take a breath or feel the wind on our faces, we think only about the sensation, and not about the mixture of atmospheric gases entering our lungs. Yet it gives us life, and without it, we can’t survive more than a few minutes.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with keeping God at the center of my life, and it helps to remember that, like the air, God is there, giving me life, whether I am conscious of it or not. In that vein, I wrote the following poem, which I wanted to share:

think about the air
the quiet invitation
quickly gets lost
lost in color
and light and
feeling and sound
all in the air
filling my lungs
it’s always there
giving me life

I cannot run
without the wind
across my face
and the air ragged
in my nostrils
nor can I
give my breath
to lonely sighs
without the same air
parting my lips
it’s always there
outside my skin

let it in
the quiet invitation
let the light
and the color
and the feeling
and the sound
give you insight
breathe in the air
it’s always there
giving you life

think about the air
across your face
tangling your hair
parting your lips
filling your lungs
giving you life
it’s always there
think about the air

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