Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just Keep Breathin'

There's plenty of pop music that make me roll my eyes or straight up gag (I do not love it when you call me senorita). But always like it when Ariana Grande's song breathin comes on the radio. Sure, it's a little repetitive, but the woman is handing out some pretty good advice, honestly. Ariana sounds like she might be living with anxiety, frankly. I hope she has a good therapist. But maybe, like me, she is just stressed out. I've been stressed out, friends. I admit it. Pastor Megan's absence left me with more on my plate than I'm used to and I'm starting to feel it.

A couple weeks ago when we blessed our kids' backpacks for school and all our totes and bags with the assurance that God breathes within us. I even preached this whole sermon about breath and feeling the breath of God give life. Sigh. Sigh again. Seriously, that's how I'm breathing these days. Held breath and sighs. I'm having to remind myself of my own and Ariana's advice constantly.

With adults - and even teens and tweens - sometimes we can offer a simple reminder: 'Remember to breathe!' or 'Let's take a deep breath,' when we notice stress being held in the body. Helping younger kids to breathe when they're feeling stressed or anxious isn't always that easy. For one, who likes being told what to do? Second, it might seem counter intuitive, but I think we actually need to be taught how to breathe. I have a couple go-to methods for breathing and focus and mindfulness that I come back to. And I recently found one that I'm adding to the list.
1) Balloon - take a deep breath like you're going to blow up a big balloon. Form a small round balloon shape with your hands by your pursed lips (they're around the balloon's opening) and blow out, watching your hands grow larger. Do this again a few times until the balloon is the size of your open arms. Then let the balloon go up into the air. (I know: the balloon isn't knotted and full of helium; just go with it.) 
2) Birthday Cake - pretend you have a birthday cake full of candles in front of you. (You're really old, I guess). Take a deep breath and blow like you're blowing them out. Count aloud with your child or have them count in their head - how many candles did you blow out? 
3) Snake Breath - I is the new one got this one off of this resource from Barefoot Books. "When they are coiled and resting, snakes look around calmly, and when they are ready to move, they are slow and smooth. Sit up tall. Take a deep breath in, filling up your whole body. Pause and breathe out slowly and smoothly, making a hissing sound for as long as you can. Repeat for three to five rounds, feeling yourself slow down and become calmer each time."
Breathe, everyone. And then keep breathin'. The God of life breathes in you, in your kids, and in me too!

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Blessing the Beginning

Beginnings and endings have me thinking about blessings. There's something about the beginning of the school year and the changes and transitions that it brings that is always a little nerve wracking - both the school year and (for me) getting ready for the beginning of programs at church. In fact I went back to my Midweek Message from last year because i knew I'd written about a back-to-school litany and I thought maybe I could take my own advice and give myself some language for remembering God's presence with me and my kids during stress.

This Sunday we repeat what has become a beloved transition to me: blessing backpacks (and bags and purses and briefcases and phones and tool kits etc; the things we carry). I know blessings aren't magical. These things aren't imbued with some kind of special power. I'm not a wizard. (Or am I? *cocks eyebrow*) They do, however, have a special place in the life of a community and in our relationship to God.

Weirdly, I often think of this advice column by hard-rock partier Andrew W. K. when I think about why prayer - and blessing as a specific kind of prayer - is important. He frames prayer as a way of letting go of our need for control and power and acknowledging instead our need for help and putting ourselves in a position of love and community. I also like Walter Wink's take. He calls prayer an aperture through which God works. Calling on God's presence and letting ourselves become magnifying glasses to focus the light of God into those places where we want to concentrate love and caring and peace, that seems very worthwhile to me.

So we've been blessing backpacks for about a decade maybe. And we bless food and babies and goings out and comings in. We bless students and teachers and service workers and council members. We bless all the things but we've never blessed our Sunday school rooms! At least not since I've been here. But that all ends this week. I was inspired by a post on the Dove's Nest blog by Allison Brookins, who talks about praying the 23rd Psalm over the children of her congregation. This Sunday, in addition to assembling school kits and eating sandwiches, I invite you to join me in doing a blessing tour of our Sunday school rooms. We'll bless these spaces in which we trust that our children will learn and laugh and create community and experience the love of Jesus, opening ourselves and those spaces to God's loving care and attention.