If you don’t breathe, how can you sing?
My husband and I are getting older every year, but don’t worry, we have a plan. And the plan is Jubilee—Coalition for Christian Outreach’s catalytic event created to provide “a vision of and for life” for college students who are followers of Jesus. Our annual dose of youth culture—in the form of a conference for college students—keeps us from becoming completely inept and utterly uncool. Or at least that’s the plan.
At the very least, we learn a handful of new worship songs every year. Though I love the gospel songs and hymns we sing on Sundays at our small Presby-Baptist church, I am inevitably struck by some new chorus at Jubilee, some new way of putting truth gone stale, some new lyrical prayer catching me off guard. This year we sang,
It’s your breath in our lungs,
so we pour out our praise,
we pour out our praise.
It’s your breath in our lungs,
so we pour out our praise
to you only.
As I listened to the voices surrounding me, I saw one of the band members circle her arms to the music. It’s your breath in our lungs, she lifted both hands up along her torso, reaching out above her head, so we pour out our praise, she brought her arms forward, as if she was setting something down, we pour out our praise, she reached her hips and began the circle again.
It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only. And my mind was turning over this thought: Even praise to God has its source in God.
The music ended and an enthusiastic professor bound to the stage. “I want to talk about Creation with this frame,” he said, “Everything God creates is a gift. You are a gift. The person next to you is a gift. Every inch of this earth is a gift.”
He asked us to consider what it means to approach other people as gifts. He described human work as unwrapping the gifts inherent in the world so that they might be gifts to the world. And as he spoke, it echoed again, It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise.
God asks nothing of us that hasn’t been given to us.
I thanked God for these reminders. And then I remembered one more thing, something I had learned when I was even younger than the students around me. I remembered learning to sing. “Breathe!” our choir director would command, “If you don’t breathe, how can you sing? Breathe!”
It was so obvious, but so difficult, this remembering to breathe. I knew that I would be able to hold a note longer, keep my voice steady, and reach higher pitches if I just inhaled at regular intervals. I knew the air was available, abundant, and necessary. I knew, but I quickly became distracted by my own efforts. I would forget to breathe, straining my voice, and pushing out the notes with everything I had left.
As I left Jubilee, all these pieces were circling in my head like the singer’s arms. All is a gift. God only asks us to unwrap the gifts in creation so that they might be given again. It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.
And then I heard it clearly, this word of the Lord: If you don’t breathe, how can you sing?
Lyrics to “Great are You Lord” by All Sons and Daughters
Photo by Hey Paul Studios on Creative Commons
Jen Pelling ’10 is on the winding path of life-after-seminary. She earned her MDiv from PTS, and is an elder at Valley View Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pa. She writes and edits for the You Are Here blog (www.youareherestories.com), freelances in her “free” time, works with other people’s children in various settings, and mothers her own two daughters with joy and frequent prayers for patience.