Breathe! It’s Almost Thanksgiving

Elohai neshama shenatata bi tehora hi – Oh God, the soul-breath you have given me is pure. 

Atah b’rata, Atah y’tzarta, Atah nefachta bi – You created it, You shaped it, You implanted it within me.

Each morning, we give thanks to God for the life-giving breath within our bodies. With these words from the siddur, we focus on deep cleansing breaths that connect us to our Creator. 

Singing requires a great deal of body awareness and a sense of connection to different systems and mechanisms within the body: posture, alignment, strength, coordination, focus, and, most important above all else, breathing. As a middle school and high school singer, I learned to breathe, or so I thought. I kept my shoulders down and back and was aware of my ribcage. It was not until my first year of graduate school at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of religion that I realized I had never learned to breathe adequately enough to sing at the level that I wanted to. During my first year at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, I had one very frustrating, but truth-telling voice teacher who helped me understand just how far I still had to go to learn to breathe. I sang laying on my back on the floor, I sang in yoga poses, I sang upside down – all to no avail. I still was unable to connect fully with my breath. Thankfully, when I got to New York for the remainder of seminary, I found a voice teacher who helped me to understand proper breathing for singing for the first time ever in my mid-twenties.

The LA Opera and UCLA Medical Center have a pilot program in which opera singers teach those recovering from serious COVID-19 infections to breathe. Opera singers are working with patients who were intubated and need to be retaught the most basic breathing functions, as well as with those with diminished lung capacity. They are teaching them how to access the fullness of their breath and to breathe efficiently for maximum access to oxygen. The program has many transformative stories, including a man who went from being on supplemental oxygen, barely able to do the simplest exercise at the beginning of the course, to singing Amazing Grade in praise and gratitude for the return of breath to his body. 

Art has the power to heal and to do so in ways we may not expect, including actually enabling us to grow in our physiological ability to breathe. Art helps us to see the world more clearly. Art sparks memories from long ago. Art helps us to feel our own feelings and come into awareness of that which we have buried deep inside of ourselves. Art connects us to our past and helps us imagine our futures. Art connects us to one another and fosters mutual understanding. Art for so many of us, is life.

Please join us online for the Annual Citywide MeckMIN Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, The Art of Gratitude and the Heart of Healing, on Tuesday November 23 at 7:00pm on MeckMIN’s facebook page. This year’s service will feature visual and performing artists from across Charlotte whose works offer praise and inspire healing. The MeckMIN Thanksgiving service is a long-standing tradition in our community, created in 1975 by Rev. Dr. Sidney Freeman, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte and Rabbi Harold Krantzler of Temple Beth El. Each year since, we take this time as a community to gather, even virtually, in song, praise, gratitude, and to have a sense that we are one piece of a greater Charlotte community. For so many, this service is the official beginning to Thanksgiving. I hope that you will join us. 

I still forget to breathe sometimes. I think we all do. For me, I may begin to practice or to pray and it can take me many minutes to realize that I have not yet arrived fully into my breath. It is in the awakening of that awareness that we have the opportunity to change the course of the moment and – breathe deeply and fully, allowing the life-breath to fill every part of our lungs. 

Psalm 150 exhorts us: kol haneshama tehaleil Yah – let everything filled with life-breath praise God. May we breathe deeply and in that fullness of breath, fill the world with gratitude and praise. May we, in God’s image, breathe our world into being through art, poetry, song, dance, a well-cooked meal, a football thrown, a puzzle completed, a kind word spoken, a helping hand lent. This Thanksgiving, may we connect to the gratitude that enables us to create the world we long to see.

Visit https://www.meckmin.org/meckmin-interfaith-thanksgiving for more information about the MeckMIN Community-wide Interfaith Thanksgiving service.