A Spirituality of the Atmosphere

This summer during a course titled “Ecological Spirituality”, I reunited with my spiritual connection to the atmosphere. On the first day of class, we were randomly assigned to one of four groups, represented by the elements–water, fire, earth, and air. Upon my assignment to air, my mind immediately pictured a large low pressure system and its boundaries of warm and cold air, mixing high in the upper atmosphere. Meteorological terms such as troposphere, millibar, and occluded front danced in my thoughts. I was returned to the first year and a half of my undergraduate study as a meteorology major…before the calculus strangled me and I switched to German.

But this summer I made an important connection to the past, blending my love for weather and insights gained from my brief study of the atmosphere with my current path as spiritual director. This connection was shared in class, and then classmate pointed me to the Cloud Appreciation Society. This led me to revisit my old meteorology textbook where I made an interesting discovery–the beginning of the first chapter (most likely meant to entice readers into learning about the atmosphere) read, to me, like a meditation.

And that’s just what I did. So below I have pasted the meditation I adapted from the textbook as part of my group’s presentation in class.

Denali Clouds

Let us become aware of our breath, and to the air you take into your lungs. Breathe in the presence of the Spirit…

Living on the surface of the earth, we have adapted so completely to our environment of air that we sometimes forget how truly remarkable this substance is. Our atmosphere is a delicate life-giving blanket of air that surrounds the fragile earth. It protects us from the scorching rays of the sun and provides us with a mixture of gasses that allows life to flourish. Between your eyes and the person near you are trillions of air molecules. Some of these may have been in a cloud only yesterday or over another continent last week, or perhaps part of the live-giving breath of a person who lived hundreds of years ago.

Give thanks for the timeless breath of our Creator God.

The earth without an atmosphere would have no lakes or oceans. There would be no sounds, no clouds, no red sunsets, no rainbows. The beautiful pageantry of the sky and poetry of clouds would be absent. It would be unimaginably cold at night and unbearably hot during the day. All Creation would be at the mercy of an intense sun beating down upon a planet utterly parched.

Give thanks for the ecological diversity on the planet.

Air influences everything we see and hear—it is intimately connected to our lives. Air is with us from our birth until our last breath, and we cannot detach our selves from its presence. In the open air, we can travel for man thousands of miles in any horizontal direction, but should we move a mere five miles above the surface, we would suffocate. We may be able to survive without food for a few weeks, or without water for a few days, but, without our atmosphere, we would not survive more than a few minutes. Just as fish are confined to an environment of water, so we are confined to an ocean of air. Anywhere we go, it must go with us.

Give thanks for the sustaining, life-giving air. Amen.

*Text adapted from a meteorology textbook: Essentials of Meteorology: An Invitation to the Atmosphere by C Donald Ahrens (2nd edition; text from page 2).