Exhaling Forever

“…he emptied himself….”

–Philippians 2: 7a.

We learned how to fall backward into the pool with scuba tanks on our backs. This was the safe way to get into the water. We learned how to help a partner whose tank had run out of air by sharing–taking turns at–the mouthpiece of the tank that still had air. We learned many other techniques, which I have forgotten. We passed a written exam, and we took a practical exam in the high school pool.

We were so excited about our checkout dive in Pearl Harbor. We went out one bright sunny day in a tugboat with all our gear. We had to dive to a depth of 25 to 33 feet, or at one atmosphere of pressure.

I went down, down, down in the wonderful harbor waters. Looking up, I could see the bubbles rising and the light on the other side of the surface. It seemed so quiet here below, except for my breathing, like Darth Vader, although nobody had heard of Darth Vader then.

This was really a different world. I grew acutely aware that I was in a hostile environment. Water, water, everywhere. I couldn’t drink it, I couldn’t breathe it. I was living in such a constricted space. The hospitable environment was on my back, in the tank, and in my lungs. Such a small, small space for a life.

I began to wonder about this living, breathing creature that I was. Where was my soul, this child of God, this precious sliver of divinity? In my body, in my eyes, in my lungs, in my brain? What was this breathing all about? I wanted to clutch this sliver of divinity, hang on to it, protect it, not squander it. After all, in this hostile environment, it was all I had of God.

It was a shock to come to the end of the air. All of a sudden, thuck–no more air to breathe. What a fearful situation! What do you do when your tank runs out of air, and the only air left is in your lungs? Natural instinct says to hold your breath. Keep all the air you have as long as possible….

But that’s not what we were taught. “Don’t panic yet,” the instructor had said. “There’s more air in your lungs than you think, because it’s under pressure. Exhale.” I pull the mask off my face and begin exhaling, breathing out as naturally as I can, as I rise slowly to the surface. I am emptying myself completely, exhaling forever, it seems. “There will be plenty of time to inhale,” I hear the instructor’s voice, “on the other side of the surface.” And as I break the surface, rushing into the wind and light, I gulp volumes of air. It worked.

Jesus, trusting that he was God’s child, obediently emptied himself. On and on … emptying out all that was God within himself until he was wholly human, the obedient, suffering servant, wholly subject to the death we all must suffer … to die on a cross, to come out on the other side, to rise again, wholly divine, wholly divine.