For almost 30 years my wife Nancy has been one of my best spiritual teachers. A woman of deep faith and a centered heart, he’s my primary teacher in learning to appreciate the daily holiness of life. She keeps trying to teach me three important spiritual lessons.
The first is to breathe. I am a driven, Type-A person. I rush from task to task, checking off completed work, and thinking (or over-thinking) about what lies ahead. I get totally focused on myself and my work. Just when I’m about to reach the point of feeling majorly overwhelmed, Nancy will walk by and utter one word – “Breathe.” She knows, by looking at me, that I’ve forgotten to. Oh, I’m respirating. Mostly I’m gulping air. I’m not breathing deeply and evenly. I’m not inviting God, with each breath, to breathe the Divine into me and nourish my soul and not just my oxygen supply. I’ve reach the place where I now hear her simple instruction “Breathe” even when she’s not with me. Then I slow down and think of a variation of an old hymn lyric – “Breathe with me, breath of God, Fill me with life anew, That I may love what Thou dost love, And do what Thou wouldst do.”The second lesson is to look. Nancy has always been a looker. Usually when a man says something like that, he means the woman’s attractive. And Nancy is. But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that she really looks at things, especially in the world around her. She especially pays attention to light. Through her constant urging me to “really look,” she has taught me to appreciate the everyday light and the lighting of everyday things. “In the act of deeply seeing,” says artist Alex Grey, “we transcend the boundaries between the self and the otherness of the world, momentarily merging with the thing seen.” When I remember to look the way Nancy has taught me, I am led into intimate encounters with God.
The third is to trust. I’m not very trusting. A counselor I once saw said it had something to do with “control issues.” Pfft. Regardless, when things get tough, Brent sometimes gets doubting. Fretting. Worrying. It’s not an endearing trait. Instead of smacking me (which she may feel like doing, but can’t since we’re Quakers), she pats me and says “Trust.” It’s her 21st century update of Julian of Norwich’s “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Then she cocks an eyebrow at me, which I take to mean, Okay, Mr. Spiritual Writer, time to practice what you write.
For a woman who talks a lot, when it comes to spiritual teaching she’s direct. “Breathe.” “Look.” “Trust.” These three remain. But the greatest of them is…
Oh, wait, I need to take a breath.
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J. Brent Bill is a Quaker minister, retreat leader, author and photographer. His books include "Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God" (with Beth Booram), "Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Dicernment," and many more. He lives on Ploughshares Farm, 50 acres in exurban Indiana being reclaimed as native hardwood forest and tall grass prairie. He is amazingly witty and good looking for a geezer.