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The Breath of Life
Once a Week
There are few human functions more theologically rich and biologically helpful as breathing. By using words in Hebrew and Greek that mean both spirit and breath, God invites us to learn something about the Trinity, specifically the Holy Spirit, and our relationship with him. Here is just one thing I believe we can learn from this connection: mindful breathing, far from being Eastern or New Age, is a biblical and God-honoring practice. Let me explain.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is an interconnected system of organs governed by the brain via the vagus nerve that regulate things like saliva, heart rate, lungs, stomach, intestines, and bladder. The lungs are unique among the ANS organs in being receptive to both autonomic and conscious control. Additionally, we can consciously regulate our breathing to influence things we don’t have direct control over, e.g., anxiety and panic.
As breathing can be conscious and unconscious, intentional and instinctive, so every theology of sanctification wrestles with the dialectic of action and passivity, the paradox and tension between relying on the Spirit to move our wills and also using our wills as the Spirit moves us.
We cannot control the Spirit’s work in our lives. But he has given us means of grace, or spiritual disciplines, which Dallas Willard defines as “activities within our power that enable us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort.” We could also describe mindful breathing as an activity within our power that enables us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort, namely, bring calm to our minds and bodies, and build greater flexibility and resilience in our ANS.
Stay tuned until next week when we will continue this topic in relation to the practice of prayer.
Quote from Thomas Watson
Prayer is the spiritual pulse of the soul, by which it beats strongly after God. There is no living without prayer; a man cannot live - unless he breathes; no more can the soul live - unless it breathes out its desires to God.
Praying for and laboring with you,