By Liv Larson Andrews
Greeted by this prompt, I’d love to say I have no aspirations. I tend to push back against the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Why set goals on this arbitrary day? “New Year’s Day is the first Sunday of Advent, not Jan. 1,” I grumble. Accept that if I do not aspire in the next three minutes, I’ll pass out.
There are many ways to understand the word “aspiration.” From the Latin aspirare, ad- ‘to’ + spirare ‘breathe’. Simply, to breathe. Breathing to. Breathing up. Breathing in. Rising breath.
When I was studying biblical Greek in college, I learned that there is no letter H in Greek. There is an Eta, which is symbolized by our character H. But there is no one letter signifying that potent exhalation (or, for you linguists out there, the voiceless glottal fricative). “H” is made by a kind of backwards apostrophe mark preceding a vowel. It’s called a rough breathing mark. That little mark, a signal to vocalize an H, is also called an aspiration.
When I worked as a hospital chaplain, I learned yet another definition of the word. Not so pleasantly benign as a linguistic terms. If you are a patient in the ICU and on a ventilator, you do not want to aspirate. In that case, aspirating means to get a bit of fluid or debris into the path of air. It can lead to death. Rough breathing, indeed.
Instead of making lists of projects or setting health goals, maybe we ought to talk simply about breathing deeply. What in the coming season will lead us to pause, to take a deep breath? When my young son is on the verge of a breakdown, emotions rising, tears welling, we often advise him, “take a deep breath, honey.” From time to time I wish for guides in my own life who might gently remind me to do the same.
Most of us suffer from shortness of breath. We rush around from thing to thing, obligation to obligation. Will making lists upon the turning of the year spur us on to even shorter breathing? Or might we take an invitation to stop, to give up something, to slow our pace so that the bottom half of our lungs can get full of cleansing air.
The winter air has finally turned truly cold, and its bite threatens to steal my breath. Yet this season I hope to find my way to a hardware store and get the proper equipment to tap the sugar maple in the front yard. I’ll need to wait for the air outside to hint of spring, but still bite. If I tap at the right time, sweetness will run.
The yoga instructor begins, “let’s start with three cleansing breaths.” I’ve already gotten my money’s worth. Three. Cleansing. Breaths. Aspiration in the best sense. This is healing. This is restorative. Why can’t I get my behind here more often?
Making maple syrup from the tree in the front yard. Finding the right prenatal yoga class. Going to said prenatal yoga class. I’ll admit: these are on my “list.” Beyond that, I hope to experiencing a healthy birth come June, and transition well into being a family of four.
Take a deep breath, honey.
Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Aspirations for the New Year” at 10 a.m., Jan. 3 at Indaba Coffee/The Book Parlor. Larson Andrews is a panelist.
Liv Larson Andrews believes in the sensus lusus, or playful spirit. Liturgy, worship and faithful practice are at their best when accompanied with a wink, she says.