Gasping for Life

– Andy Wade –

dreamstime_xs_28525997“Oh God!” Ninety feet underwater I found myself coughing water and grasping for my breathing device. Panic would be an understatement. Hours of training in basic SCUBA, countless dives, and now on one of my certification dives for NAUI Sport Diver, I found myself on the face of an underwater cliff that dropped off into darkness… and without air.

Below was darkness and death. Above was light and life. There was no doubt where I was headed! And yet to get there the wrong way would also mean death. I was three atmospheres below the surface!

A full balloon at surface level would have compressed to half, half again, and half yet again by the time it reach my current depth. If I were to hold what little breath remaining in my lungs and shot for the surface the air would expand to three times the volume and burst my lungs! I had to do what I was trained to do. I had to keep my wits about me and do the counter-intuitive thing, breathe out all the way to the surface!

My instructor followed me up making sure I “followed the rules” and ready to hold me back if I didn’t.

I burst into sunlight and fresh air


gasping for breath

I survived!

What I survived, way back when I was 17 years-old, was not only this crisis, but a bit of my own stupidity. I won’t go into details here, but this was a crisis partly of my own making. Not enough to cause me to fail the course, but still an error on my part.

There are so many life-lessons in this experience. The most obvious one for me at the time was that I am not “Self Contained”! (SCUBA stands for “Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus”) Unfortunately I spend too much of my life pretending like I am — ignoring that my life depends on the life of the people and creation around me and that my choices have a ripple affect that effect not only the people and things around me, but often clear across the globe.

We all need air, water, and food (energy) to survive.  At 90 feet under water I found myself with plenty of energy and an abundance of water, but no air. All living things require these same basic elements, in correct proportions, to survive. God created us into an interdependent web of life. When we forget this we stumble back into the sin of the Garden. I appreciate how Norman Wirzba describes that original rebellion against God:

Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, believing that in their eating they will become like a god who knows no bounds and is accountable to no one. In their act, we find a symbolic expression of the dreams that have guided and continue to inspire much of our histories: that we can live in a garden home without responsibility for it; that we can exceed the carrying capacity of ecosystems and habitats by ceaseless taking; that we can eat without discipline and much cost or effort; and that we can overcome impotence and forestall death by living in a techno-virtual paradise. What we fail to realize is that dreams of this sort keep us in a state of perpetual exile. (Norman Wirzba, Food & Faith: A theology of eating, pp. 75)

The reality is that we are created with limits, limits which connect us one to another in a mutual dance of receiving and sacrifice through which we discover life. When we fail to enter into this God-created reality we do, as Wirzba contends, live in exile: exile from others, exile from God’s creation, and ultimately exile from God.

I know if I were reading this, rather than writing it, I’d be saying, “Well, duh!” But what got me was how often I give assent to some theological concept, but then go on living in a contradictory way. A big part of this has to do with my cultural and educational background. I’ve learned to dissect the parts and analyze them individually, as if each could stand on it’s own..and then I live into this compartmentalized way of thinking (even when I think I’m not)!

Have we simply discovered a way to live comfortably in exile. I wonder if we’ve not only eaten the forbidden fruit, but also convinced ourselves, even created theological arguments to justify, that it was a good decision.

So I’m gasping for air here.

  • How often do I study scripture in the context of community, allowing others to listen with me to God’s Spirit; to challenge, inform, or support what I may be hearing?
    • How often do I read scripture in a way that takes in the:
      • broad social-political-religious context of the letter/book?
      • broad social-political-religious context of the letter/book as it applies to our world today. Applies to the local community I’m involved in? Applies to my neighborhood?
      • overarching message of God throughout history so that the letter/book is set into the larger context of God’s story?
  • Speaking of community, what does that mean to me? Am I a disconnected body-part, popping on and off as the mood or timing suits me? Or do I see myself as an essential part of the whole – a part that, even when not actively being used is none-the-less important to be present, not only for myself, but for the whole body?
    • Who is involved in my decision to:
      • move to another faith community?
      • relocate to another city?
      • change jobs?
      • change neighborhoods?
      • Buy a house, boat, new car or other large, financial purchase?

All of these are deeply spiritual questions because they cut to the heart of how we see God and neighbor. In western society, especially in the USA, we’ve been told that these are personal and private decisions. We’ve been told that, as long as we don’t infringe on the rights of others the decisions we make are personal and private. The reality is that all of these decisions have far-reaching implications for community and relationships – they don’t happen in isolation from others. What we need, what I need, are people surrounding us who will grab hold of us and hold us back when we make a break for the surface while holding our breath.

This week I’m challenging myself with these questions. Typically that would mean spending time alone praying about these things, thinking about these things, analyzing these things, then feeling a bit better about it all. But this week I’m going to invite others near to me to explore these issues together. To challenge each other and see if we can discover together a pathway out of exile.

Does any of this ring true for you? If so, what are you going to do about it?