Yesterday morning as I entered the heart labyrinth I knew I would need some breath prayer to keep me focused. The first one that came to mind was “Breathe on me, breath of God.” Breathe on me…breath of God…in…out…in…out. I would get distracted but I knew what I could come back to…Breathe on me…breath of God. I didn’t get upset with myself when my mind wandered. I just asked her to come back to…Breathe on me…breath of God.
A friend told me that the hikes out here are beautiful, so I knew I needed to tackle one or two of them. Yesterday I decided to hike Chimney Rock trail. The trail guide describes it like this: “From the top there is an excellent view of the Piedra Lumbre basin. This hike of 1½ – 2 hours has wonderful views as the trail climbs from 6,500 to 7,100 feet. Round trip – 3 miles.” No one in my group seemed interested in a hike (and, honestly, I didn’t ask anyone to join me), so I started the hike at my pace. I’m the same way with running – it’s never been an activity I like to do in groups. I don’t want to feel like I’m holding someone back from running faster and likewise, I don’t want to be held back (let’s be honest, it’s really the first one I’m concerned about – running too fast has never been an issue of mine). So, I got to hike the way I wanted – up the hill, stop, turn around and take in a new view that appeared behind me. Up, stop, turn. Up, stop, turn.
Somewhere along the way I noticed that breathing was a little harder than I had anticipated. Up, stop, turn eventually became up, stop, turn, breathe, breathe, breathe. I was grateful when other hikers were coming down a narrow path because then I had the opportunity to stop and breathe longer! I was very focused on my breath because it was loud and I was alone, so it was one of the few sounds I heard besides the crunching of the rocks below my feet. I was reminded of my morning labyrinth walk – much slower, deeper breaths. I tried to return to the in and out of breathe on me, breath of God. It was more like breathe…on…me…breath…of…God. Each one being one breath in and one breath out.
This breath prayer just came to me earlier in the day and returned again. I suspect this is why we sing hymns and read liturgy and hear the same Bible stories – it can seem so monotonous at times, but those repetitions sink deep within my bones, into my heart, into my breath. So when I need it, they just appear. I may not know all the verses to the hymns, but I know the ones that bring me comfort. I probably can’t quote the chapter and verse, but the scriptures that give me strength aren’t hard to recall. Maybe this is a preacher’s kid thing, but even before I worked in the church, I could repeat much of the Great Thanksgiving and Baptismal liturgy from memory. It’s in me, it’s part of who I am.
One of my favorite memories from childhood is standing between my mom and grandma at my grandparent’s little Mennonite church in the middle of the farmland of Illinois. I would stand between these two women I adored listening to their beautiful alto voices while contributing with the melody as best I could. In this church my grandma learned to sing harmony. In this church my mom learned to sing harmony. And, in this church, between two gray haired women – one younger, one older – I, too, was learning to sing harmony. We were singing the same songs my grandma sang and my mom sang. How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace…together we sang these old hymns and the slowly the tunes, the words, and the harmonies made their way into my little body – a foundation being laid.
When times are hard, words and tunes creep up inside of me – words and tunes I forgot I knew. When times are joyous, words and tunes creep up inside of me…no matter the time or circumstance, I can find something deep within, something from that foundation laid a long time ago that brings me comfort and joy. So, it’s not surprising that “breathe on me, breath of God” found it’s way into my conscious yesterday morning while meditating in a labyrinth and then again when I struggled to find breath on the side of a mesa. I’ve sung those words many times, not knowing that one day I would need them to help center my mind or give me the strength I needed to keep climbing.