It rises and falls moment by moment, me scarcely aware. Receiving breath-gift. Fullness. The surrender of release. Emptiness. The breath cycle happens in spirit as in body. Grace is given, received with thankfulness. A moment, a day perhaps, of felt fullness, joy and peace. Excitement at what God is doing. Then it fades. Fatigue sets in. Restlessness. A fresh awareness of my own emptiness and poverty and need. I seem to want always to feel full. I forget that constant fullness leads to death. Those with asthma know. Emptiness is a gift, constant fullness that against which they war. For in their illness, the problem is not receiving breath, but releasing it; not getting air in, but out. As the airways close, the lungs stay full. No release, no space for the next breath in. And the air within, the gift of the past, has already done its life-giving work, gracing the body with oxygen. It can give no more life but waits to be surrendered, the space emptied for another rise to fullness. And I wonder, can I learn not to fight the process of surrender? Each time the fullness wanes, can I learn to ask, “What am I being invited to release?” Can I move beyond seeing emptiness as a necessary but unpleasant preparation for fullness and learn to receive the unique gifts that emptiness offers? For it is only here that we discover ourselves loved in our poverty, our nothingness. It is here alone that we learn we are cherished not for our doing, but because by unfathomable mystery God delights in our being. And I realize that without this gift of emptiness, there is no rising cycle to fullness, for this is the gift, the earthy, holy stuff of new creation fullness, that at our emptiest, we find ourselves embraced again by the One who delights to draw us close enough to breathe into us our next moment of fullness.
I don’t pretend to be a fantastic singer. I’ve sung in choirs and I delight to sing harmonies when we sing the old hymns in church. But a friend tipped me off to this Q&A and voice coaching turns out to be soul curing and learning to breathe the very stuff of life.
I could spend weeks pondering this fifteen-minute clip. But here’s the love that I hear God singing over me through the voice of Joyce DiDonato today:
Relax. You are made for this.
“Your body is a perfect instrument. . . .” [She demonstrates with a three month old infant sitting there wailing away. No placement, no concern about diaphragmatic breathing, yet the infant can wail for hours!] “We are built to do that. The biggest issue with breath support is not what we’re doing with our breath; it’s everything we’re doing to interfere with it.”
We are made to house the life of God. We were woken from our dusty beginnings with a kiss, Yahweh breathing into us the life that we are made to contain, to carry, to breathe out again into the world. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into His followers. That same Spirit still breathes in us, giving us all we need to sing, to pray, to live God’s love in the world.
Stick to your job
“The biggest job of the singer is getting out of the way of the breath doing its job. If I’m feeling pressure or tight or the sound is tightening up on me, it’s not a matter of me needing to support the breath more, it’s a matter of me needing to release somewhere so that the breath can move more freely.”
My default when things aren’t going well is to try harder. I feel stuck in writing so I make myself sit longer, try to write more, figuring that if I just try hard enough and long enough, it will come. There’s a place for persistence and good hard work. It can be part of my loving of God. It can also be me getting in the way, trying to do God’s job rather than my own, trying to make something happen rather than being content to open myself to the One who seeks an instrument on which to play, a body through which to sing. More often than not, the breakthrough comes when I let go of control and step into God’s ever-offered invitation to be small and let Him be God, when I stop trying to figure out the details of how and when and just let myself be His.
Know what you’re singing
“If you’re singing a pure vowel and are really clear in your brain about what that vowel is, the breath has a much clearer track on where to go.”
It is the truth that sets us free. Read, study, memorize the Scriptures that help you remember what your song is. Practice thanksgiving. Hike in the woods or watch the sunset or play with a toddler. We have a good God—a God who loves us with His life. Learn what helps you live in His love—and this is a little different for everyone—and keep doing it.
Use all of you
“The clearer the emotional content of what you’re singing, the freer your breath will be. If my brain knows exactly what the expressive quality is, my breath can move more freely. Somehow that way everything is unified and married. If I’m just thinking vocally, I start to concentrate on the breath, . . . [and get tense], and there’s no way the breath can move freely.”
It’s easy to think God only approves of certain emotions. But every single emotion—fear, joy, anger, hope, discouragement—is a gift that, if we dare to sing or cry or groan it honestly to God, can be a place where He meets us and breathes in and through us more freely.
Trust that the breath will be there
“[In a long phrase that’s hard to sustain], if I’m only thinking about the breath, I get scared that the breath is going to run out and I start trying to hold onto it and conserve it, which of course blocks off the breath and that freedom isn’t there. . . .If you get out of the way and have a clear intention on a clear vowel, the breath will be there for you. It just will be. It involves a lot of trust and being prepared to step off the cliff and being prepared to fall. . . . But the freer I am—in my mind, in my body—the freer the breath is.”