whole: day 19

There is an elemental love in the universe

by which name we know each other

and encourage ourselves to live.

There is a silver river that connects everything

from which some part of us never leaves.

There is a mercy making its way

up through the ocean of the earth

to the shores of our feet.

There is a music so sweet it is almost unbearable

that is composed between the ear

and the heart which reminds us.

There is a part of us that

says it is never too late to be reborn

on the inbreath each morning.

Stephen Levine

I spend a lot of time listening to my own breathing, practising mindful techniques to help manage anxiety and seizures, yet I rarely stop to consider: 

What is the sound of a breath?

I mean this in a philosophical, theological and poetic sense.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel noted, ‘the stillness is full of demands, awaiting a soul to breathe in the mystery that all things exhale in their craving for communion’.  I am fascinated by projects like Lumisonic where scientists, using new technologies, are working with deaf children to help them ‘hear’ sound by seeing it.

What does the sound of my breath look like?

Every time I breathe, there is a communion, a wholeness, if only for that milisecond, I am at one with what I am breathing in.  For that moment of sound and sight, of seeing and hearing, I am one with the earth beneath my feet, and all that lives upon the earth in that moment.  

When I stop to think that every time I breathe I breathe in God, my mind spins, boggled by wonder at the mystery of the interconnectedness of the incarnate God.

breathe in God

Hearing myself breathe might be a good way to bring together what I am knowingdarkly of the ‘little’ book of scripture and what I am seeingdarkly of the ‘big’ book of creation, to use the terms of the ninth-century Irish poet John Scotus Eriugena:

Eriugena invites us to listen to the two books in stereo.  He encourages us to listen to the strains of the human heart in scripture and to discern within them the sound of God and to listen to the murmurings and thunders of creation and to know within them the music of God’s being.  To listen to the one without the other is to only half listen.  To listen to scripture without creation is to lose the cosmic vastness of the song.  To listen to creation without scripture is to [lose] the personal intimacy of the voice … In the Celtic world, both texts are read in the company of Christ.

(Philip Newell, cited by Christine Aroney-Sine, The Gift of Wonder (95))

Hearing myself breathe with the ‘ears of my heart’ is the way I need to learn to listen to the intimate cosmos, within and without.

I’ve long stopped listening to the voice inside my chest that I once thought was God, but turned out to be an amalgam go every negative thing anyone has ever said to me, forged into a pithy little knife: You are not worthy.  I know that isn’t true … God would never say such things to his children. 

To hear people explain to me how my body and my desires fall just outside God’s love is to be deafened to the quiet yet persistent voice within that says: You are a triumph.

… when we refocus our spirituality, our faith, our God in the small victories of survival, we take small but confident steps toward healing: look at how I’ve survived!

… when we call out, we call in  … we embody on terra firma the answer we look for in the sky … we are the guiding light, the answer to our physical and spiritual liberation.  And when our voices are united, they rise up in a thunderous chorus: let my people go!

(Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, ‘My Queerness is a Compass’, Book of Queer Prophets curated by Ruth Hunt (45-8) original emphases)

the mystery that all things exhale. Canon 7D. f6.3. 1/800. ISO 3200.

Published by Kate Kennington Steer

writer, photographer and visual artist

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