Over the last few days I've been writing about the way we discover calling. Actually, that's not quite right. I've been writing about the moments we first see it, like a flash of light. The moments that the veil is removed from our eyes.
We get a vision like the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountainside, when the light was so great that Peter, James, and John could hardly stand it.
It's like someone zaps a defibrillator against your chest. Your body jerks to life.
Born again, again. Born into breathing.
Because the breathing metaphor is the only one that makes sense to me.
I've been writing quite a bit about air over the last couple of weeks.
I think it's because my own lungs are screaming for it. Inner lungs. You know. As if I've been underwater for my whole life and I suddenly emerge above the surface, whip my long hair back from my face, and my face splits wide to swallow the entire atmosphere whole.
I cannot get enough oxygen into these lungs of mine.
I have been sad for so long, and only now am I coming out of it, and it is because of calling.
Because calling feels like more than injecting an artificial IV drip of the fluids I need. It feels like clean, pure autumn air.
This is my favorite season, not least because of the clearest of blue skies, not least because of the crispness of the air. But that air suddenly takes on a supercharged vitality, as if all the electrons were buzzing faster and faster and faster and almost searing our lungs with white pop-rock lighting that zaps across our tongues and spines.
My soul has felt like wet wood on a winter's night recently. Like a wet blanket that will not keep you warm.
(It's correct, because I cannot keep myself warm, either literally or metaphorically.)
It has felt like I will never catch fire again.
You know what's been saving me?
I've said it before and I'll say it again: it is at the opera that I am healed.
My parents were in town this past weekend, for a Tech football game. My youngest brother and I got to have lunch with them on Sunday, and in a quick moment separate from the boys, Mama told me, "You seem better." And I feel better. Her remark led me to ponder all the reasons why. I mentioned that singing helps, and having lessons again -- it helps. With vigor and emphasis in her voice, she responded, "Sara, that's it. That's what's made all the difference: you doing what you love."
It is sweet to me that my parents see the way that singing heals me.
One thing I've been thinking on this week is the way singing and writing make me more myself. If I don't write at least each weekday morning, something is seriously off throughout the rest of my day. Writing settles me. Tells me what I think. Similarly, singing gets into my connective tissue and all my bound-up muscles and the gray matter of my brain -- into the physicality of my body -- and calms my restless heart, because oh, my friends, how restless I have been.
This is all to say that without the things I have been called to do, I die.
My air supply is cut off. Like someone has a foot on my jugular. Like someone sucked all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. Like someone placed a glass bowl over me and then vacuumed out all the air.
Jesus is the breath in my lungs, the air underneath the feathers of the wings attached behind my shoulder blades. But without calling, without following the calling, I feel cut off from Him.
Let's be clear here. Nothing can ever separate me from Jesus. Not even my own choice of deafness. But I am less myself, and I feel like the universe is closing in tight around me, when I do not do the good things God has given me to do.
Calling is breath, too.
Of course, this is so closely knitted to my specific calling that it isn't even funny: my calling of music-making. Of singing. The act of creating with the two folds of tissue in my throat that are the size of a dime (OF A DIME, PARTY PEOPLE).
Some create with ink, some with clay, some with human sinew (dancers; let's not be weird, y'all), some with electricity. My father can create with seeds and irrigation methods and the damp earth under his fingers: he is a farmer. My brother Cooper can create with numbers in his brain; he is so good at math. My medium? A voice.
And what does that require? My text for undergrad Vocal Pedagogy says that there are four stages to creating a singing sound: respiration, phonation, resonation, and articulation. In other words: breath, sound-creation, sound-resonation, and finally, the formation of words and recognizable sounds.
Where does it all begin? Respiration.
So I'm kidding myself -- and you -- if I don't acknowledge my own partiality to the breath metaphor. Singers talk more about breath, breath control, breath support, and whatever the crap those mean more than we do almost anything else. It's not the end-all, be-all answer to all things forever and ever amen, but you know. It's close.
If I don't breathe well -- not necessarily breathe deeply, but breathe well -- I cannot make sound. If your breath is not quality (again, not necessarily quantity of air, but quality of intake), the entire phrase will be off. And I know it in my bones, even if I cannot articulate what the crap is going on.
I feel it in my body.
I sense it when the air is off, or wrong, or something has shifted.
And we can sense it with calling, too.
We know when our heart is not pumping the same way, when the blood is not flowing with its usual freedom.
We can tell when the flame in our souls is sputtering from lack of oxygen.
It happens when the connection to God is not the same.
For when we are connected to God, when we know Him, we also know ourselves -- and one of those ways is through the way He has called us.
And when we have been woken up to calling, and we try to walk away from it --
Well, we don't get very far, for our lungs fail us and we are choking and we drop to our knees.
We come crawling back.
And suddenly the foot on our lungs starts to let up.
We can breathe again when we acknowledge calling.
We are reconnected in our arteries and veins.
That's the phase I'm in right now: a slow seeping of oxygen back into my body.
The flame along my spine relights a little. Like a strand of white Christmas lights twined along the vertebrae. Like a Merry Halloween.
Something turns on again.
The sadness is leaking away, and in its place is the knowledge that I am most myself when I am singing and writing with Jesus.
The conviction that even if I come home from work and want nothing more than to take a nap, I can super duper nap -- after I sing. The growing surety that I only have my jobs (which I'm not in love with by any means) so that I can keep making art. Keep following calling during this in-between stage of my life.
The ever-creeping belief that God clears the way with the snip of a twig here, the movement of a branch from the path there, sets a moldy stone guidepost on my right hand side, so that I can just barely read it -- but if I am listening, I can see the slight trail, and I can tell that it is guiding me toward the glory of God in my calling.
The forest is a little less scary. It feels like a friend now.
The wolves and the demons crowd around me on all the sides. But I am not afraid.
I am not suffocating in the forest like the dwarves did in Mirkwood.
I can breathe again.
Like usual, I have no idea how to end this post.
Except for this: I. have. hope.
With every note I sing, every word I write, every moment I wake up and remember Who Jesus is and who He has said I am and what He calls me into -- these gorgeous-wonderful things that bring me so much joy -- I am being made whole.
The sadness is leaking out of me, and the Christmas lights are no longer drowned.
For it is in the words -- and the books -- and in the presence of God -- and at the opera that I am healed.
And all God's people said amen.