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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Breathing through…Planting Trees… Preserving the Circle… | July 25, 2021 Message from Dr. Benton

The opening music comes from Sweet Honey in the Rock, one of my favorite groups of musicians. The song reminds us of the interconnection of life…of the plants and animals, the rocks and the trees, the living and the dead. It reminds us of the elemental nature of life. It has the power to bring us back to what matters…the air, the water, the breath. I have been thinking about this recently as the fires begin to rage and our own air is becoming more and more difficult to breathe. I think about this every day that I sit down with a new client who is so caught up in a cycle of anxiety and depression…of worry and heartache. People with lives being torn apart by sickness and fear…by the inability to breathe easy…by a struggle to feel peaceful and relax. As a therapist, I find myself instructing people daily on practices that I have learned through the years to combat my own anxiety…my own difficulty with taking a deep breath…my own disconnection from my relatives – the trees, the flowers, the animals, the rocks. Shirley Kobar, a poet, wrote this beautiful description of a healing breath…

I breathe, slowly through my nostrils capturing particles of air that travel

to my lungs, in harmony with life surrounding me.

I release an essence with every parting breath, trees, flowers, weeds synthesize the gas and exhale the oxygen through structures as delicate as butterfly wings.

In our interdependence we sanctify each other with life each breath a blessing,

a restoration, an act of healing.

This poem reminds me of my connection with the natural world through the particles of air that travel to my lungs. It reminds me of the process going on at every moment of every day…the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen…the interdependent nature of existence…the circle of life. We do indeed sanctify each other with life. Each breath is indeed a blessing, a restoration and an act of healing.

And healing is something that we really need in order to sustain the energy and determination needed for this work…the work that reconnects us to the earth and to each other. This is the work described by Joanna Macy…. The Work that Reconnects. Macy says that we need to build greater resilience in order to do this work. One way to build that resilience…to strengthen ourselves for this journey to reconnection and wholeness is a practice she calls Breathing Through. Here is a recording of the practice from a workshop she led.

When I practice this meditation, I feel a connection…not only to the air, the trees, the plants, but also to my ancestors. In particular today, I am reminded of my father. Perhaps he is visiting me to check in…or I am visiting him. In any case I feel closer to that source of life…the pulsing of the blood in my veins, the pumping of the air in my lungs, the sound of my grandson outside my door…calling me to life, to play, to exploration. He is walking, living and breathing close to the source of life…I know it! He also carries some of the DNA from my father…there is no doubt about it.

There is a song that my father seems to be singing today. A message that always anchored him in life. He often wanted to hear this song in the evening while looking at the flames of a fire. It is a song that I have also found to be strengthening and inspiring.

This is a song that often accompanies me on actual walks, as well as meditative walks in my mind. Walking is another practice that, like breathing through, can help us to cultivate more resilience…healing…and restoration. This practice can help us move through to do the work needed to connect with others and the work being asked of us at this time.

And there is a lot of work to do. One example of someone who saw an overwhelming need and responded with a work of connection…of restoration and of healing is Wangari Maathai.

Maathai’s work is one example of what can be done…one tree at a time…one heart at a time…even in a desperate environment…a seemingly hopeless situation. She had a love for the trees that she planted…for the environment that she sought to restore. Of trees she wrote:

Trees are living symbols of peace and hope. A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches to the sky. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded, and that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance.

Maathai knew of the sacredness of creation, of the deep interconnection between the elements of life…and of the need for us to intervene in our current situation. She gained a deep understanding of human need, as well as the intricate, delicate nature of life. This understanding led to powerful acts.

Maathai believed that the circle and cycles of life must not be broken by the violence, poverty, environmental degradation…the seeming hopelessness of a situation. She believed that through the work of her hands and heart…through the work of connecting with others’ hands and hearts, she could be part of the perpetuation of the circle of life.

Is the circle broken? I hope not. Rev. Hazaiah Williams wrote, “God is the vast unbroken circle, the vast Principle of inclusion”. The circle of life is on the edge of being destroyed…the “vast Principle of inclusion” …the delicate balance of life is in severe peril on so many levels. Will that circle…the orbit of the planets, the cycle of wind and rain, the ebb and flow of the waves, the Great Circle of Existence, from which we had our birth…will it continue to be unbroken? That is our prayer.

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