A Sample from ‘How to Root a Meditative Practice in God’s Breath’

In June 2021 you can look forward to the next book written by Jeff, creator of the Faith-ing Project. Here’s a selection:

Chapter 5

I am a teacher.  One of my favorite things to teach is the “breathing” process of animals and plants.  It is something beautiful, the efficiency and interdependency.  As we shall see, it’s possible to infer implications of startling complexity.  Yet, at its root, it is quite simple: we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide and  plants do the opposite.

  We each need the other.  The world would quickly run out of available oxygen with out our green friends.  The world would soon run out of available carbon dioxide without us animals.  

It’s such a beautiful system.   We’ve got no use for CO2.  Plants have no use for O2.  We each depend on this thing that the other no longer needs.  On a theological level, there is something very interesting going on here.  Let’s begin with the mere observation that the whole system is so exquistiely coordinated.  Evolution has designed an object lesson in interdependence.  

But from there, move on to the idea that our breathing is a way of saying God’s name.  Is it possible that the plant’s breathing is, too?  If we assign to our breath-parts the sounds “Yah” as we inhale oxygen and “weh.” as we exhale carbon dioxide, then  plants are saying that name in reverse: “Weh” as they inhale carbon dioxicide,  “Yah.” as they exhale oxygen.

This next point is a bit abstract, but once it’s internalized,  it’s a powerful thing.  So bear with me.

In a profound and important manner, as I say one half of God’s name, and the plant says the other half of God’s name, the plant and I are saying God’s name together.  As I say “Yah” the plant says “Weh.”  As the plant says “Yah” I say “weh.”  This strange bond, this connection, has an element, or two, which remove it even further from the sorts of names that are normally said.  This strange name is said simultaneously, both syllables at once.

 There are some ways in which this is a radical over simplification.  For one thing, unlike animals, plants don’t release a nearly constant stream of oxygen.  They “create” oxygen while photosynethesizing, and not at other times.  We will sometimes focus on a single plant, bush, shurb, etc.  For simplicity and convenience, we’ll visualize the balance between ourselves and that single  plant.  It’s unlikely, in reality, that our oxygen needs will be exactly met by that plant; it’s similarly unlikely that the plants carbon dioxide needs will be exactly met by the carbon dioxide we produce.  It’s still a helpful image, though.  It’s a stand-in for the numerous plants we depend on, for the numerous animals the plant needs.  

it’s worth  simplifying in our minds.  The basic principle that we are in a reciprocal relationship with plants still holds up.  Visualizations follow the logic of dreams.  It’s a logic that is difficult to express in words, but a logic nonetheless.

Today’s practice is an opportunity to connect with our photosynethesizing siblings.  It would work by simply picturing plants in generally, by objectively knowing that there are living creatures who breathe opposite us.  But a first, wise step is to imagine a specific plant.  Perhaps a favorite tree.  If you can do this meditation in the presence of a houseplant or sitting at the trunk of an actual tree, that it so much better.

Practice #5) Breathing with a Plant
  1.  Release your responsibilities for this time and find your center.
  2. Take three deep, cleansing breaths.
  3. Now, bring your plant friend to mind.  Study it either with your physical eyes or in your minds eye.  Love this plant if you can.
  4. As you inhale, breathe in the oxygen which was breathed out by your plant.
  5. As you exhale, realize that this exha;ation, which would be poisonous to you, is exactly what this plant needs.
  6.  Repeat steps 4 and 5 for two more breaths.  
  7. Sit in relation to your plant, recognizing your interdependence as you breathe together.
  8. Seek to be fully present to this breath, as you breathe with your plant for the next three breaths.
  9. Consider with this next inhalation how you and the plant are saying God’s name together, two almost-syllables said simultaneously.  The oxygen from the plant and to you, God’s two-part name said all at once.
  10. With that exhalation see that you and the plant, are once again, saying God’s name together, this time switching roles.
  11. For the remainder of the time you have left for this practice, breathe with the plant in whatever manner felt best: focusing on the interdependence, this breath, or saying God’s name together.
  12. When you are nearly done release this practice and sit in a time of wordless union.