Last Friday, I woke up with a bad headache, so going to the fitness center with my 80’s mix soundtrack blaring in my headphones while pounding the elliptical machine or the treadmill just wasn’t going to cut it. But I do find that exercise really helps my headaches, especially when I wake up with one and it's not a true migraine. Movement to get the blood pumping a little bit, deep breathing, and the subsequent endorphin-release can ease the pain or eliminate a headache altogether. In fact, I often use exercise as the first treatment for a headache, which means I can often avoid taking any pain-killers.
I was in enough pain that day, however, that I wondered if exercise would help at all. But fresh air almost always makes a difference. There is a walking path that goes by a small lake in our subdivision; I had been wanting to try it, so I decided it was a good day to check it out. They sky was clear and sunny, and I had the trail to myself.
As I took in the view with slow, deep breaths, I asked God what I needed to learn, to know, or to hear today. What message or blessing was contained in this pain, so I could receive it and let it go? A hawk, with wings spread wide, floated on the air above me. I imagined her view from up high and wondered if I needed to take a wider look at the whole of my life with more distance and detachment. What does the hawk see that I do not?
As I pondered this, I noticed how relaxed the bird’s wings and body were—she simply floated on the air and let it push her up and down and around with a sense of ease and abandon—like there was no other reason for her to exist except to be held up, carried, and content. I thought about my own tangled and anxious efforts to cross things off my to-do lists, the constant mental criticism in my head about what I’m not accomplishing and should be, often forcing myself forward when my body and mind ask for rest. What would it feel like for me to just float on the breath of the Spirit? Could I allow myself to be held, supported, and gently moved forward without all my anxious toiling? What would it feel like to open my heart, spirit, and body with wings stretched wide, trusting that I can stop flapping and instead, glide, relying on God’s presence and energy beneath and through me?
As I walked, I tried relaxing my whole body with my breath, releasing tension and tightness. I turned around and headed back to toward the car. The hawk came into view again and I watched her glide across the sky, the wind taking her in a new direction. Just then, a second hawk came into view and flew across the path of the first hawk. If they were planes with sky-writing smoke billowing out behind them, their flight paths would have formed a cross.
Oh, yeah: the essential work of salvation is already done. I’m simply called to open myself and lean on the presence and power of Christ’s Spirit, bearing witness to the grace that lifts me up.
Photograph: Maureen Sullivan