I have been on vacation these past couple of weeks. The second week of that vacation was planned: a camping trip in Colorado. The first week, however, was not planned. It came about as a struggle with writer’s block.

This is uncharacteristic for me. It is not typical for me to be at a loss for words. I’m usually able to scratch something out, to push out words that, at the very least, approximate what I’m thinking and feeling. This time, however, I simply couldn’t.

Both here and over at the unruly buddha, I had intended to write a few posts on the importance of breath. I wanted to write about the connection between words and breath, the importance of breath as an object for meditation, and the ways in which we can use breathing techniques to calm ourselves when we experience stressful situations. Breath is this thing that we share with all living creatures, and I really wanted to explore it.

But then a friend of mine sent me this photograph from NurPhoto and Getty Images.

I happen to know the young man in this image; he is a former student of mine. I can look into his eyes and transport myself into past conversations with him, conversations about religion, identity, what it means to live a good life and be a decent human being.

Here he is now, right in front of me, fighting simply to breathe.

As the country reels in the wake of the horrible death of George Floyd, as the country seeks to find a way to ease the suffocating pain of the COVID pandemic, I must acknowledge a very hard truth:

Not everyone gets to breathe quite as easily and freely as I do.

The image above haunts me. It forces me to reckon with my fortune, to be thankful for the opportunities and the privileges that, through no fault of my own, I have been given. But it also forces me to take a deep look inside of myself and ask some difficult questions, questions that arise out of the Christian faith that, at times, has been so central to my adult life.

This is not a blog about religion, but it is a blog about how I’m viewing and understanding the world. Therefore, it would be untrue to myself to come at hard-hitting, heavy issues without acknowledging the Christian and Buddhist lenses through which I see what’s going on.

In the Gospel of Luke, after spending forty days in the wilderness and surviving Satan’s temptation, Jesus enters a synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath and quotes from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed… (Luke 4:18; J.B. Phillips translation)

The Gospel of Luke, combined with the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of the spreading shelter of the Kingdom of Heaven, from a backwater in the Galilee all the way to the center of the world: Rome. The healing that Jesus mentions here, the freedom from oppression, the deliverance, all of these are the promises of Heaven, which is not just some future reality, but a place that humans have access to right now, if they look for it. “Seek and ye shall find,” after all.

As I look into the eyes of the young man in the picture above, I have to ask myself:

  • How am I healing the brokenhearted?
  • How am I delivering people from captivity?
  • How am I helping the blind to see?
  • How am I freeing the oppressed?

To that list, I might add:
How am I making it easier for those around me to breathe?