When Breath Becomes God
Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” From John 20
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. From Acts 2
Pentecost is a pretty dramatic event: the appearance of the recently crucified Jesus to his (still) doubting disciples, complete with Holy Spirit flames and a mighty wind. What many people remember about this story is the onset of speaking in tongues. That’s for another day.
But perhaps the most important part of the story may be in the air. This was the beginning of the indwelling of Christ—in the disciples and you and me. Jesus used his own breath, a holy mighty wind, to fill his followers with his life-giving spirit and mission.
When we emerge from the womb, it is that first breath that says, “Hello life, I’m here!” At life’s end, we listen for the last breath. Some slide into death with a pronounced breathing pattern that alternates between apnea and deep, strenuous exchanges of air, sounding very much like a woman in hard labor. As I sat with one of my kids and my dying mother, my daughter smiled and said, “She’s giving birth to her new life.”
Like many of you, I have become more aware of my breathing during prayer and meditation. When I pay attention, I know that with every breath, I’m drawing in the spirit of radical love, mercy, and joy. The impossibility of not drawing the next breath—the absolute necessity to do so—reminds me that God is not letting me go. The next breath is God’s new life, over and over.
Bitterness and anger sometimes causes us to clench our teeth, set our jaws and hold our breath, if not literally, than certainly spiritually. In our thoughts: “I’m in no mood for grace, and joy doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.” For me, these are times for personal Pentecost moments, in prayers like the words of Edwin Hatch’s hymn:
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love the way you love,
and do what you would do.
We don’t have to roll though another liturgical year for a personal Pentecost. In finding our center and making a space, it becomes as present as the next breath, when the mighty wind-spirit of God fills us anew to do God’s work.
My friend Sandy often shares the good words of Joyce Rupp, a writer and “spiritual midwife.” It’s a pleasure to share a bit with you.
Rushing Breath of Love … Breathe renewed confidence into our fatigued spirits. Send us forth with a passionate desire to be conveyors of your goodness, messengers of unconditional love by the way we think, speak and act. Amen.