As my physical body ages and weakens I want to strengthen my spiritual life. I’ve known older women who were bedfast but whose prayers I coveted more than material riches. I hope to move into that important role when it’s my turn.
Catholics who pray the Hours pause seven times a day to pray. Sister Macrina Wiederkehr calls them Seven Sacred Pauses and wrote a book called just that. The seven times are midnight, dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, evening and night. As Sister Macrina calls them, “those times of the day that the earth’s turning offers us.”
But terms like “evening” and “night” seemed sort of willy-nilly and haphazard to me. For goodness sakes if you’re going to do this by times then set some times. Who knows evening from night? The accountant in me screamed for specifics, So for MY prayer time I assigned seven regular times: 6am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm and midnight. This is the way an accountant sees things. Decently and in order. Can you tell I’m Presbyterian?
I was prepared to ditch either the 6am prayer or the midnight one. I know God wants me to get more than six hours of sleep at night.
I set about to have my cell phone alarm go off at those exact times. But I never mastered the alarm feature on my phone and only succeeded in having my alarm go off in the middle of church and announcing to the rest of the world what a klutz I am.
Somewhere I heard that Muslims pray five times- morning, noon, afternoon, sunset, evening. And like all good overachievers and accountants, they sometimes get all caught up in the exact times for sunrise and sunset. And that’s how I ended up with a phone app for the Muslim prayer times. It not only makes a little beep on your phone when it's time to pray, it adjusts the times for the changing sunrise and set. I figured this out when the alarm times changed by a minute every day or two. This was starting to look like my sort of plan. The app can also point you to Mecca using the GPS feature in the phone. Not only will you know when to pray but you’ll know what direction. When the little alarm goes off I look at the phone and there's some Arabic word on the screen telling me what to do if I could read it. For all I know it could be telling me to "attack the infidels."
Hey, if the Catholics or Presbyterians would just invent a phone app of their own for prayer I wouldn’t have to do these things.
This presented a bit of a problem: How to explain why my Presbyterian little self was praying according to Muslim prayer habits.
I also discovered another tiny problem. I realized I had spent over a month in a quest to find a way to alert me when to pray but I had not so far done any actual praying. I got so caught up in researching recipes for the icing that I forgot to bake the cake.
Then I thought of another trick that seemed to solve both problems. I could use hot flashes to alert me. I’ve been getting them regularly since I started taking medication for breast cancer. Say what you want about hot flashes but they don’t make a noise. I am the only one who knows “my internal alarm” has gone off. So far I’ve even managed to avoid fanning myself with the church bulletin or any other handy piece of paper and no one even knows they’re happening. I normally get about four or five a day and they started to look like a handy accouterment to alert me that it was time to pray. I’m brilliant this way sometimes.
The hot flashes are also a great way to remind me to actually pray, to remember how thankful I am that I have them. They remind me that the cancer was small and weak enough that it’s only been a minor blip in my life; that the only reminder I have of the whole experience is a tiny scar and medicine that provides nothing more inconvenient than a few hot flashes. The hot flashes can remind me that I am alive, I have survived breast cancer, I’ve been marked for a deeper relationship with God. Maybe I have an important assignment ahead. Maybe it’s dramatic or maybe it’s not. Maybe it's just an assignment to “Be.” Be loved and Be loving. Be-ing with the Creator of the Universe.
I was on a roll here. Could there be other reminders as close at hand as my own body? Then it came to me: I could pray every time I took a breath.
Like most red blooded Americans, I breathe on a regular basis. I don’t need to set an alarm to remind me. It doesn’t even require batteries. Some breaths are bigger and deeper than others, with some shallow and done without thought. I decided to use those big ones to remind myself to pray.
I remembered the Michael W. Smith song:
This is the air I breatheI practiced taking great scoops of air and noticing how much empty space there is between my nostrils and my lungs. Compared to how crowded my torso gets with heart, liver and kidneys all bunched up together, there appears to be an enormous empty cavity in my head. Especially at the roof of my mouth going up to my sinuses, bouncing off the back of my throat and careening down to my lungs. In the scheme of my body it is almost Grand Canyon-like cavernous. You could store large objects there if it wouldn’t obstruct the flow of air and strangle you. How do you measure air? There’s room for lots and lots of it in these empty spaces.
This is the air I breathe
Your Holy Presence living in me
I started imagining how big God is and how much God I take in with every breath. I’m a fairly smallish person; I don’t have big lungs but I could still take in a huge breath and think of that capacity as a temporary residence for God. Inhale God. Exhale God. Upon exhale, making room for another scoop of fresh God. Over and over. And over and over. Not “hyper-ventilating” over and over. “Eternal” over and over. Well, “eternal” as long as the breathing lasts, as long as my physical body works. Until the last breath I take.
Then, when my last breath is spent, God will have no more use for this temporary home. And God will move on. Leaving the empty shell for my children to dispose of in a hopefully respectful way.
Where will God go? Only God knows. In the meantime I celebrate my Roommate. My very large, revitalizing, refreshing, powerful and empowering, reassuring Roommate.
This is the air I breathe.