From now until the release of my book How Jesus Saves the World From Us, I’m going to write twelve blog posts covering the themes of my twelve book chapters. My fourth chapter “Breath Not Meat” talks about the way that Jesus saves us from becoming “dead” in our lives through dehumanizing practices like consumerism so that we can be more fully alive as vessels of the breath of God.
I am always being consumed by my bad habits. I have developed addictions and other idols that cause me to behave compulsively and neurotically so that it’s very hard for me to be comfortable in my own skin. It doesn’t matter where I go or what I’m doing. I carry my anxiety with me. To some degree, it’s my brain chemistry’s fault, but I’m responsible for the unhealthy ways that I’ve coped.
The apostle Paul talks about two ways of living life: life of the spirit and life of the flesh. Spirit and flesh are kind of abstract words in our language so I decided to translate the Greek slightly differently in my fourth chapter title to breath and meat. Depending on how we live, our bodies can either become dead, rotten meat or vessels for the breath of God. The more that we see the objects in our world as meat to be consumed, the more we will become meat. The more that we see God’s breath in the objects around us, the more we will become breath.
When I was taking voice lessons, I learned about the critical importance of breath support to the quality of your singing. The problem is that we cannot control our diaphragms directly with our conscious minds. We have to hypnotize ourselves into breathing correctly usually through engaging in visualizations and similar exercises. Perfect breath support paradoxically feels “effortless” while you’re doing it. The effort is the training you have to do so that in the moment, it is perfectly natural. If you’re making an effort to sing, then you’re pushing the air out in a way that will damage your vocal chords and distort your sound. Singing correctly requires “surrendering” to your breath.
This is such a perfect metaphor for our life with God. We are surrendering to someone who is as gentle and intangible as the air we breathe. I tend to be resistant to words like surrender and obedience. Indeed, in certain circumstances, they are truly toxic words. But in the context of my relationship with God, it means falling into sync with my spiritual source. Making myself so attentive to the promptings of the most quiet voice in the universe that I can be played like an instrument with his breath.
The more that I come into sync with the breath, the more I am able to relax and enjoy myself. Sadly, too often, I am churning through cycles of nervous, terrified feelings, which exacerbate themselves the more that I scroll mindlessly through my Facebook and Twitter feeds. The more that I engage in that behavior, the more twitchy and angsty I get. I become like a festering pile of raw meat left outside in the hot sun. That’s what life in the flesh is, whatever your particular poison happens to be.
When Paul tells us to avoid the ways of the flesh and adopt the life of the spirit, he’s not promoting some kind of disembodied existence in which we hate our bodies. Quite the opposite! Living in sync with the breath of God is the pinnacle of physical existence. It is the most natural way of being. It makes the physical objects of my world most real to me. On the contrary, living as a slave to my fleshly appetites and neuroses is a diminished physical existence. I become a frightened shadow of myself the more I’m ping-ponged about by my compulsions. I have only tasted a few moments in my life when I was truly at the center of God’s breath, but it was enough to make the rest of my life a quest to find that breath again.