Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

Don’t Hold Your Breath.


Yesterday was a big day. Let’s do a breathing exercise to help us calm down. It will help us with what’s next. Let’s take a deep breath. Lent is about slowing down, being more reflective, becoming more self-reflective. Let’s take another breath. Good. Breathing is essential. The Latin word for breath is spiritus, but spiritus means so much more. Even though there is always too much empty talk about spirit, let us talk about spirit, because I want to clear the air about some things before we get started – except we’ve already started. Because we’re already breathing. Exhale. Inhale. See? We’re already doing this. Keep breathing.

What is a human being? Kierkegaard says that the human being is spirit. It’s not that we are spiritual beings, but that the self, itself, is spirit. Wait. What? Keep breathing. Set aside your thoughts about what is “spiritual”, about being “spiritual creatures”, or that we have “spirituality”. That someone can be “spiritual, but not religious.” This is not about that. This isn’t about feeling the divine, about having a pleasurable, transcendent encounter with God. All that is a big, red herring. This is something else. This is about ourselves as spirit. Keep breathing.

“Spirit is the self,” writes Kierkegaard. Okay. We kind of understand, but not really. Now, keep breathing and watch closely and see if you can see what he does:

“The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself. The self is not the relation but the relation’s relating to itself.”

Woah! Wait. What? Did your breath catch for a moment? Are you still breathing? Good. You are breathing. Keep breathing. Think of the self as breathing, as spirit. You are breathing. You exhale. You inhale. Think of the self as exhale, inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale inhale. Exhale inhale exhale inhale. Good. This is you. This is the self. It is about the relation of exhale and inhale. Think of exhale, of breathing out, as all about the infinite, the eternal, freedom. Think of inhale, of breathing in, as all about the finite, the temporal, necessity. Exhale out into limitlessness. Inhale until you can’t breathe in anymore. Good. Now, you’re getting it. See? You’re already breathing. Keep breathing.

Kierkegaard is saying that a human being is the synthesis of exhale, inhale. “The synthesis is a relation between two terms.” We’re breathing, but the self is not the merely the juxtaposition of a breath out and a breath in. “Looked at in this way, a human being is not yet a self.” And it’s not the action of breathing out and breathing in. The self is not the relation of exhaling and inhaling. Stay with me! You can do this. Keep breathing and concentrate on your breathing. Okay. You are breathing and thinking about your breathing. While you are breathing, you are relating to your breathing. You, spirit, are relating to your breathing.

Now watch your breathing and watch what I do: Your breathing, your exhaling and inhaling is a relation which relates to your breathing. Your breathing is not the relation, but the relation’s relating to itself. You’re a little confused, but you’re starting to get it. Go back up to where Kierkegaard says “Spirit is the self” and read down to here again. Let yourself read about your self again. There. You just did it. You’re still doing it. The relation of yourself is relating to your self. Keep breathing.

You are a human being. You are not a static object. You are spirit. You are the relation of your self relating to your self. You are encountering yourself. You continue to encounter yourself. Spirit is self-encounter. This is the developing activity of self-encounter over and over again. This is you as spirit. Spirit is the self. See, this isn’t what you’ve thought of as “spiritual” or “spirituality”. This is something else. This is something different, because this is the self, itself. This is your self, yourself.

Okay, let’s take a deep breath and shake it all out. Phew! That was exhausting! Who knew being a self, becoming a self was so involved?! Becoming a self can be hard work! And yet at the same time, it is as natural and automatic as breathing. But thinking about yourself is hard work – if you ever really, really think about your self at all.

I think that’s enough of a workout for today. Feel a little raw, a little more self-aware? Can you still feel your breathing in your chest? Yeah, it’s different now, isn’t it? Well, that’s the self for you. You just can’t get away from yourself, even if you try. We’ll pick up tomorrow where we left off. Take it easy for the rest of the day. Ha! Who am I kidding? No, you can’t. Especially not now. You’re more self-aware, now. You’re stuck with yourself.

Oh. By the way… Remember that if you stop breathing, you die.

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By Burke
Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.


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