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Breathing Patterns, Part 2: Exhale

Tom Sturch

Jerry-Uelsmann-3 We go to wilderness places to be restored, to be instructed in the natural economies of fertility and healing, to admire what we cannot make. Sometimes, as we find to our surprise, we go to be chastened or corrected. And we go in order to return with renewed knowledge by which to judge the health of our human economy and our dwelling places.

~ Wendell Berry, Home Economics

In Part 1 of this post I introduced you to my morning coffee partner, Joe. We met at the Glen Workshop West in Santa Fe, New Mexico and set out early each day for coffee and fellowship. Dr. Joe Gascho is a cardiologist. He focuses his skill on the cardiopulmonary system, the intertwined inner-workings of the heart and lungs. Joe says that his work relies on “seeing to the limits of the slim spectrum of human vision and knowing what to do.”

Joe looks at echocardiograms –images of the tissue and function of his patients’hearts and by the course of years of practice can distinguish the slightest anomaly from the patterns of health and make the right diagnosis for therapy. “A healthy heart pumps out the exact measure it takes in,”Joe says. As with breathing in and breathing out, there is a moment between those movements when everything changes. In the lungs, oxygenated air is exchanged for carbon dioxide to be expelled. In the heart, blood is pumped to the lungs to be enriched with oxygen the body needs. All in live-giving economy.

Against the perception of his industry, Joe sees his work with two sets of eyes. He watches his patients who trust against the alien context of the medical facilities, the probing tests and the unsettling truth-telling about their condition, in hopes their bodies might be healed and their lives enhanced. So, in addition to the professional, clinical rigor, Joe remembers that each “echo”he views is embodied in a person. He sees the thumbprint of their lives outside the body as it impresses upon the body. He sees them from the inside out as a gift, then transforms the data into poetry, the therapies into image, and bears it to us who too often presume too much about life, health and happiness. As doctor and artist, Joe helps us see how fragile and wonderful we are. He sees hearts as both muscle and part of the poema, or “workmanship,”as “the gift of God”described in Ephesians 2. Echoes that were once nameless, backlit mylar become name and soul –the pathos of broken bodies asking to be restored, and in an imaginative turn, the inspiration and flourish of art.

The week flew and then we said goodbye to the Land of Enchantment. Among the many serendipitous occurrences of my week in Santa Fe was Lewis Hyde's “The Gift” as reading for the plane-ride home. Hyde says, “We long to have the world flow through us like air or food. We are thirsty and hungry for something that can only be carried inside bodies.”An epigraph quotes this Czeslaw Milosz poetry, “There are nothing but gifts on this poor, poor Earth.”

Such inspiration cannot be hoarded, but instead must be breathed into the rhythms of life until sunset and sleep when sunrise calls again. The art of gift practiced within these few breaths and heartbeats given is what it is to be transfigured –the in-breaking faith becomes faithfulness in gratitude –the gift of its fruit to give away.

By what art, calling, and inspiration will you give the gift you have been given?

(Photo by Jerry Uelsmann)