Breath and Spirit - A Devotional by Sarah Toth
Editor's note: Accomplished opera singer Sarah Toth (below) shares a devotional based on her vocal training. To structure her thoughts, she relies on a familiar medium - song lyrics. She skillfully weaves excerpts of popular worship choruses and hymns throughout as she offers encouragement on living lives fueled by the the Spirit of God at work within us.
This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe:
Your very presence living in me.
We try to “do life” on our own terms and with our own strength. We try. We push. We strive to see results. But where is the joy? Why do we get so tired? Why do our efforts always fall short? I sometimes visualise a life that is different: a life fuelled by an invisible, supernatural source of energy, life, and love, with lasting impact for the Kingdom of God. This is God in us, His Holy Spirit moving and working in us – the breath of God.
Breathe on me breath of God!
Fill me with life anew!
That as you love, so I may love
And do what you would do.
As an opera singer who also follows Christ, I seek a foundation of breath, both from the breath of God in my life and the physical breath in my lungs. I have come to see the complementing qualities of these breaths. Similar to the way my marriage teaches me to be the Bride of Christ, learning about breath as a singer teaches me about the Spirit of God. These lessons are brought to my attention daily, sometimes hourly.
Breathe on me breath of God!
Until my heart is pure,
Until my will is one with yours
To do and to endure.
The way I approach each phrase that I sing can lead me down a path of beautiful, effortless sound supported by air, or down a path of pushing on the throat, which can lead to eventual vocal problems. One path begins with singing "on the breath"; the other begins with singing "on the throat." For beginning singers, the difference between these two approaches seems slight and hard to recognise, but the implications of executing the difference are enormous. This is why it is so important to reinforce healthy habits every day, with each breath.
This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread:
Your very word spoken to me.
Let me put you in an opera singer’s place to give you a picture of the results of singing "on the throat.” At first, you feel fine. Your voice sounds loud and present to your inner ear, and you feel great because you seem to control your notes. The strength of your vocal cords and throat carry you through for a while. But, over time, you notice the sound that was so big in your ears, has less impact than you thought. Your voice does not cut above the orchestra or across the performance hall. Soon, you try to sing a phrase, but the sound does not come out as you would like, and it feels laboured. Exerting great effort, you tire quickly and maybe get a bit hoarse. Eventually, your voice and often your health deteriorate and give out all together. For an opera singer, this can mean the end of a career.
So take me as you find me -
All my fears and failures.
Fill my life again.
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in -
Now I surrender!
Singing on the breath is beautiful, but it can also be scary. You feel vulnerable as you release your grip on controlling every note with your throat and trusting it to your breath. You start to find the small sliver of sound that floats on the breath. It is on this sliver that you can begin to feed your line of music. At first, singing on the breath sounds and feels very small in the singer’s inner ear. It feels like you are not doing much at all, as you trust that little sliver of air! Finding that breath every day, the sound continues to spin on the breath and becomes more resonant. It is amplified beyond the carrying-power of the voice by itself.
Once the technique is mastered, you have much greater freedom in deciding how to turn a phrase, hold a high note, or express something quietly or loudly. Singing on the breath brings great joy to you and your listener!
Of Thy fullness Thou art pouring
Thy great love and power on me
Without measure, full and boundless
Drawing out my heart to Thee.
Don't you want to live life on the breath, life in the Sprit? There are often pressures on me to succeed, to produce, and to be amazing. I admit that my first instinct to these challenges is to put even more pressure on myself to TRY and DO. What if, instead, I stop and listen for that small thread of God's voice and the Holy Spirit's guidance? He can lead me on a better path to carefully navigate the passages of life with ease and joy! Instead of just "getting the job done," the Spirit guides me to actions that create a resonant ripple effect, far beyond anything I could do on my own. This beautiful life in obedience to the Spirit is worth treasuring and seeking every day. It is worth letting go of control to walk a Spirit-filled life, supported by the breath of God.
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We're singing for the glory of the risen King Jesus!
Lyric excerpts from:
Barnett, Marie. “This is The Air I Breathe.” Mercy/Vineyard Publishing. 1995.
Fielding, Ben and Reuben Morgan. “Mighty to Save.” Hillsong Music Publishing. 2006.
Hatch, Edwin, with new words by Jubilate Hymns. “Breathe on Me, Breath of God.” Jubilate Hymns/Hope Publishing Company.
Rees, William, trans. by William Edwards. “Here is Love.” Public Domain. 1900.
(1) Kristin Coleman, (2), (3) Justin Moffatt