Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
--Psalm 150:6 NIV
If you’ve gone to church for any length of time, some of the language can become a little too familiar. The words can lose their meaning. Phrases and ideas heard repeatedly in scripture readings, praise songs and hymns sort of become like a favorite pop song, commercial jingle or Christmas song. One is so familiar with the words, their significance no longer sinks in.
It helps me to hear my tradition with fresh ears when I hear truth in another religious tradition. Whether I’m reading something by a person of another faith or I’m getting to talk to someone of a different faith in person, I usually find not only am I learning to appreciate the faith of another tradition but I understand my own better. This has especially been the case in reading the writings of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. For example, he writes:
People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
The Western world’s values of viewing the Creation of God merely as something to be used up for our own gratification has developed with the blessing of a Christianity that views the “material world” as inferior to the world of the spirit. It is embedded in the heart of free market capitalism and exported around the globe.
Yet, this Buddhist monk’s recognition of the miracle that exists in all creation reminds me to consider the parts of Christianity and the Hebrew Bible that recognize the earth not as ours to use like a tissue we wad up and throw away, but as God’s creation that we participate in but do not own. “The earth is the Lord’s” declares scripture, but the present ecological crisis shows how we humans act in godless ways refusing to recognize the earth belongs to God not us.
Thich Nhat Hanh also writes about the miracle that is an ordinary loaf of bread:
When I hold a piece of bread, I look at it, and sometimes I smile at it. The piece of bread is an ambassador of the cosmos offering nourishment and support. Looking deeply into the piece of bread, I see the sunshine, the clouds, the great earth. Without the sunshine, no wheat can grow. Without the clouds, there is no rain for the wheat to grow. Without the great earth, nothing can grow. That is why the piece of bread that I hold in my hand is a wonder of life. It is there for all of us.
I buy my food at a supermarket, and it’s easy to forget everything involved in a “simple” loaf of bread. There is the miracle of life itself and all the things in an ecosystem required for grain to grow. There are the farmers who harvest grain, the people in bakeries who produce it, the people who transport it, the “essential workers” who stock it.
Especially in these times of pandemic, where people literally risk their lives to put bread on store shelves, I ignore everything and everyone who has been involved in the bread making it to me at the peril of my own soul. As politicians debate the level of unemployment benefits, most of whom have never been hungry a day in their lives, I consider the low hourly wages of most of the people who produce the food I eat. Many of the people who produce food for my family are paid wages that leave them below the poverty line and without medical benefits. Each bite of a sandwich I take connects me to countless people and to creation itself. It also reminds me of my ethical responsibility to the earth and to other people.
Most of all, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of mindfulness that starts with paying attention to our breathing:
Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive—that you can touch the miracle of being alive—then that is a kind of enlightenment.
Even though I believe in God’s grace, I don’t often live like it. I hurry around trying to prove myself and act as if accomplishing more is that same thing as living in a significant way. My prayers are hurried and harried instead of moments to connect with God who is present everywhere and in every moment.
Christian theologian Theilhard de Chardin wrote this about the “breath of all creation:”
All living creatures are sustained by this life-giving rhythm, and we are dependent on plants, trees, and other vegetation to transform the carbon dioxide we exhale into the oxygen we need to thrive.
Our breath connects us with the “breath” of every living thing. We are a part of the network of God’s creation. We are not beings operating in a vacuum, separate from everyone and everything else. We are a part of God’s living community. Millenia ago, the Hebrew writers of the Psalms expressed the same truth when they sang
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Sometimes the truth of God sneaks up on us via someone of another religion so that we might rediscover the truth of our own.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851