In my high school yearbook, which I have purposefully lost, I am listed in a rundown of categorization as “the most bashful.” I have wondered about that rather unique claim to high school infamy. Most bashful. Not most likely to succeed. Not best dressed. Not most likely to be president. But most bashful. Introversion had a lot to do with it. Low self-image surely had something to do with it. Living in a rural town in the middle of nowhere also had something to do with it. Anyway, I am okay with being bashful. There’s worst things to be.
I am not sure if there is a “Most Inspiring” in high school yearbooks these days. Maybe there is. There wasn’t in mine. And if there were, I would not have been deemed Most Inspiring either, that’s for sure. I cannot think of a senior classmate who would have been deemed that. Even the cheerleaders were Gen-X cynical.
I begin with this to say I’ve been pondering the importance of being inspiring as a pastor. In the latter part of my 5 years here, I’ve been pondering this. This is what is clear to me. One person can never, ever be the most inspiring reality. It is unfair to expect this from a person. Why? Because at its heart, inspiration comes from somewhere else. We may be conduits of inspiration. We may even be good at being conduits of inspiration. But inspiration by definition comes from a source outside of ourselves.
So what is the most inspiring thing? The most inspiring reality is the reality at the source of all inspiration.
The word inspiration, its etymology, helps us understand what I am saying. Inspiration literally means the state of being breathed into. Now folks often put a self-help, motivational speaker slant on this. In this idea, inspiration comes from hearing someone inspire us or from our finding it in ourselves or a combination of these two.
But inspiration in the literal sense points to breath and a source of breath. Something breathed life into us. The first book of the Bible offers an idea about who the source of our breath is.
Genesis 2:7 says this: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
This is the original inspiration, the ultimate inspiration, the inspiration that never dissipates. God breathed life into us. God literally inspired us. And in every breath in the world, not just our own which of course will end, but in every breath breathed in the world, we have evidence of God inspiring us.
So if you are having a bad day, if the world has got you down, if you come to CCNOT Sunday morning and the preacher puts you to sleep, if the next minister turns out to be as boring as I am in the end, you can find hope in this – our very breath, humanity’s breath, the earth’s breaths, is a testimony to God’s inspiration. Truly taking that in, making a practice of it, cannot help but inspire us.
Even if you doubt the existence of an external God, the reality of breaths in the world being the source of inspiration still applies. Take away all the trees in the world and what would happen? Take away all the water from the world, what would happen? Take away all the oxygen? Take any of those away, and our breath would eventually stop. Our breath relies on the breath of trees, on water, and on oxygen. The environment around us literally gives us breath.
So if you are having a bad day, if the world has got you down, you can find inspiration by doing something very simple – deeply look at the trees, at water, at our own breath, and ponder their gifts to us. The gratitude found in this simple practice will naturally lead to feeling inspired.
We are talking about inspiration in the truest sense, as connected to the breath which is born of God who Zerself is Breath (“God is Spirit or Breath”). We are talking about the breath sustained by the Community of the Earth. Yes, it helps to be reminded of these things. But there is nothing more helpful than developing your own practice of going back to your breath and appreciating what it represents. God’s ultimate gift is found in our own breath. The earth’s ultimate gift is also found in our own breath. And these are gifts that keep giving. If not to us on this earth, then to the newborns in the world taking in their first independent breath and to us in the realm of God’s very breath, heaven. What can be more inspiring than a gift that keeps giving?