WAITING TO EXHALE
What Is Happening in the Skies above Us? Do You Know?
On our planet, air is our constant companion. It animates our bodies and allows us to speak when its moves across our vocal cords. But how do you describe what cannot be seen but can be heard as it rustles the leaves in the trees and can be felt so powerfully as a tornado effortlessly contorts metal? Science can describe oxygen gas as the elegant dance of two oxygen atoms and explain bird flight as a co-creative adventure of wing and air.
But human imaginations need both science and art to fully appreciate the wonder of Earth’s atmosphere. One composer, Arvo Pärt, captured the essence of air in his composition called “Spiegel im Spiegel”—Mirror in the Mirror
As you begin to listen to “Spiegel im Spiegel,” be attentive to your breathing. Slowly inhale, filling your lungs completely as the music fills your soul. Absorb the simplicity of the notes as oxygen is being absorbed from your lungs into your bloodstream. Feel the ebb and flow, the cadence, of the music. Be attentive to the ascent and descent of notes as your chest rises and falls. What do you notice? How could this music and the ebb and flow of Earth's animating breath help you imagine the Holy Spirit's activity in the world?
This piece of almost weightless music transcends cultures or backgrounds, moving people from all walks of life. Those who are open to its expansiveness are invited to a place of serenity.
But the music also demands a response.
For some, this piece creates in them the desire to breathe deeply as the music cascades over their senses. It is gentle and meditative; it cannot help but slow the frenzy of your own life, even just for a few minutes. The deliberate pace of this music invites the audience to do the creative, introspective, intuitive work of holy noticing that we are often too busy to do.
For others, this music is like a slow heartbeat as it pulses through life’s ups and downs. Our breathing and circulatory systems share a cooperative cadence and life is sustained only when they work together. Thus, our bodies seem intimately attuned to this composition; it matches the vital time signature of our hearts.
Commentators on this piece of intoxicating music indicate that there is virtually nothing to this airy piece, only “the slow steady arpeggios on the piano” that work together with the “ascending and descending scales on the cello.”
In its ethereal-ness, they are brought to tears without knowing why.
Perhaps their emotion stems from primordial memories of when spirit and matter intertwined during the first few moments of creation. Our common origin story told by Genesis and modern science reminds us of the primal lullaby of Spirit and matter—an aspect of life lost on imaginations formed by the rigid rationality bequeathed by Enlightenment thinkers. The Enlightenment emphasis of separation, fragmentation of knowledge, difference, and human supremacy have numbed us.
Opening ourselves to this sacred primordial lullaby will set our imaginations free. Its simplicity and provocativeness liberate us to fully contemplate the movement of the animating Spirit that once moved in the same manner over the water, bringing order, cadence—and life—to the world.
But what if air, shared through the centuries, is not life-giving?
What do you know about Earth's atmosphere? Would it surprise you to know that approximately 3.5 billion years ago, there was no oxygen gas in the atmosphere and no life as we know it today? We are indebted to many ancient microorganisms (blue-green algae) for our existence because billions of years ago, they pumped oxygen into our oceans and atmosphere as they transformed sunshine into energy.
As we moved more and more towards an industrial way of living beginning in the 18th century, we burned so much coal, diesel, gas, and wood -- and this polluted our blue skies. Did you know that indoor and outdoor air pollution is the fourth leading cause of premature deaths in the world - almost 5 million deaths per year? According to the Global Burden of Disease study 3.4 million people died prematurely in 2017 as a result of outdoor air pollution alone. To put this into perspective -- this was more than three times the number who died from HIV/AIDS and over eight times the number of homicides. [LINK]
With air being described by environmentalists as 'the invisible killer' today, will our imaginations be unable to make sense of how the animating Spirit as God's breath of life?
It is time for some holy noticing of Earth's atmosphere and the air we all breathe.
The problem of air pollution has theological dimensions worth pursuing. Liberation from what is choking us—literally and spiritually—comes when we undergo ecological conversation and recognize our common origin, interconnected present, and shared destiny.