The novel, Breath by Tim Winton is set on the west coast of Australia and tells the story of two boys coming of age and of their competitive obsession with diving and surfing. The New Yorker described it as “both a hymn to the beauty of flying on water and a sober assessment of the coast of losing one’s balance in every sense of the word” One of the boys tries to explain this obsession and the dueling competitive spirt between them saying

We scared people, pushing each other harder and further until often as not we scared ourselves…It’s funny you never really think much about breathing until it’s all you ever think about.

These past 12 months we have been living through a pandemic which attacked the lungs, causing untold tragedy and unbelievable loss of life, for so many, around the globe. At the same time the pandemic of racism has ravaged communities and taken the life of all too many. We have heard the cry “I can’t breathe.” You never really think much about breathing until it’s all you ever think about! To turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to this cruel tragedy and cruel cry for breath is to lose one’s balance in every sense of the word. The image I offer today is two blank frames for you to insert what image or word or prayer, you consider most appropriate on this day, in this Holy week, and on this day when within the USA the cause of George Floyd’s death moves to trial. I have struggled to find the right poem. Read aloud these untitled lines by Naomi Shihab Nye which reflect on this past year and more. I will return to Nye for another poem in a few weeks time.

And there were so many more poems to read!
Countless friends to listen to.
We didn’t have to be in the same room—
the great modern magic.
Everywhere together now.
Even scared together now
from all points of the globe
which lessened it somehow.
Hopeful together too, exchanging
winks in the dark, the little lights blinking.
When your hope shrinks
you might feel the hope of
someone far away lifting you up.
Hope is the thing …
Hope was always the thing!
What else did we give each other
from such distances?
Breath of syllables,
sing to me from your balcony
please! Befriend me
in the deep space.
When you paused for a poem
it could reshape the day
you had just been living. Naomi Shihab Nye

Keep me awake O Lord
that I may pray
what needs to be prayed.
Create balance in my life
of things holy and things human.
Urge me this day
to pray for those
who struggle to breathe
those who are short of breath
they have had to run too far,
have had to toil too long
have had to cry
“I can’t breathe”.
Breathe upon me and
upon us all
the breath of life
the breath of love
the breath of hope.
Let everything that breathes
praise the Lord.

One thought on “Breath

  1. In spite of the struggle, you found the right poem and enhanced it with the beautiful, breathing prayer. Wendell Berry, in his poem about how to be a poet writes, “Breathe with unconditional breath the unconditioned air”. And I have often thought about that line, wondering about its intended meaning. I think your post is helping to bring it together in my mind. You are correct. We don’t think about breathing until we think about it. In one frame I will put my parents as the poignant reminder that I was with each for their last breaths, and in the other frame I will put my daughters as the joyous reminder of experiencing their very first breaths. That George Floyd told the world that he couldn’t breathe and yet it made no difference pains me deeply.


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