This is surely something that nobody ever grows out of? I can remember as a child, walking to school on a frosty winter morning, and being thrilled at how I could puff out clouds. If you were to pass me in the street as I dash back from the school run, or run up the high street to my choir on a Wednesday evening, you may well spot me still puffing out clouds as I go. In my head, I’m still a baby dragon. I never did quite graduate to breathing fire, but breathing out clouds of smoke (or water vapour) is still almost a superpower, I reckon.
The air you breathe out is more moist than the air you breathe in, having travelled through your wet lungs and your wet mouth. While it was inside your nice warm damp lungs, the moisture was able to stay as a gas, but when you breathe it out into the cold air, the water in your breath no longer has the energy to stay in a gaseous state, and condenses into water droplets and ice crystals, just as water vapour does up in the clouds. Your breath, being full of water, forms a small cloud of its own before dispersing into the environment.
You can play around with this a bit. Get a few of you together and see if you can create a bigger cloud. How long does your cloud last before you can’t see it any more? What about if you bring out a cup of tea, and take a couple of nice hot sips first before breathing out as hard as you can? Does this make for a better cloud? And, of course, you can have lots of fun imagining you are a baby dragon, no matter how old you are!
You can’t make a cloud just by moving around air. Squeezing a bicycle pump, or the bellows from a fireplace may mimic a breath, but the effect will be precisely nothing. It’s what happens inside, in the hidden secrets of your lungs, your throat, and your mouth, that will allow the cloud to form. Feel as you take that breath in, and as it fills your lungs. Sense the damp warmth of your body warming up that cold air and it absorbing some of your body’s moisture. Feel that cavity of your body filled with the air that was once outside. What are the hidden things in your life, the hidden changes, taking place this advent? Notice them and value them, remembering that it’s not always the spectacular and visible that’s important. Don’t rush this waiting- sometimes important things take time. In Ezekiel 37: 14 God speaks: ‘I will place my breath in you, and you will live’. You are full of the breath, of the life, of the Spirit of God.
Lord, as I notice the breath that fills me, help me also be aware that I am filled with your Spirit, and to rest in the spaces between breaths. Amen.
Humans are innately creative creatures. It’s very satisfying to make something appear in a space where there was nothing, even if it’s only a small cloud on a cold day. Similar to the reasons for the rise of the selfie, it’s comforting to have proof that we exist. There’s something special about the interaction between our environment, our bodies, and our mind and will. As you experiment with creating a bigger or better cloud, with friends or with a hot drink, think through what else you are bringing to birth in your life at the moment. What are you creating in a place where there was nothing? Who and what are you working with to make it bigger and better?
Lord, as I breathe a new cloud into being, lead me and guide me as I breathe new things into being in my life also. Amen.
This post was an extract from Wild Advent: Discovering God Through Creation by Rachel Summers (Kevin Mayhew, 2017), 92 pages, £7.99. Used here by permission of the publisher.