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Friday, December 30, 2016

Breath & Spirit


While practicing centering prayer, my attention began to be drawn to my breathing. I became more aware of each breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathing in more deeply. Pneuma. The Greek word for both Spirit and breath. Spirit as breath. It brought to mind Genesis 1:2, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

In Hebrew the word is ruakh, which also means breath, wind and Spirit. They are interchangeable because the breath of God provides man both life and spirit. I Am gives us the breath and life that allows us to be. Breath, like grace, is a gift given freely to us. When we are young, we run headlong into the wind, faster and faster, delighted at our own speed until we collapse on the grass and laugh amidst our heavy breathing. We feel alive. We feel infinite.

How we take our breaths for granted until they become labored and difficult. I saw this with my own mother as she lay dying. Breath becomes hard as the person struggles to get what they need just to live. Breath becomes harsher. It is no longer breathing, but gasping. Breath, life, Spirit all are leaving this mortal flesh. We now face the reality of our finitude. There is no future beyond the next breath. One of my favorite books of last year was Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air about his dying of cancer. It is remarkable moving, poetic, philosophical and spiritual work. One of my favorite lines was, "We shall rise insensibly, and reach the tops of the everlasting hills, where the winds are cool and the sight is glorious." What an amazing and profoundly hopeful image of the life to come. Where Spirit rises and on the tops of "everlasting hills" feels the cool "winds" and sees a "sight that is glorious." What must that truly be like to cross from this world to the next? The Spirit, like wind, rushing from the body to return to the mouth of its Maker, who first gave it life. Breathe out. Breathe in.


Earlier in Genesis we are provided with a glorious image of God, "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2). Divine Spirit as wind moving across the waters. God as metaphor, which is the only way we, in our limited abilities, can even begin to grasp our infinite Creator.


With my eyes closed, breathing in deeply, I imagined wind across the waters, stirring it to life just as the Spirit would bring to the early Church in Acts 2:2, "And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting."

This Spirit, this wind, is what John speaks of when he says, "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (3:8).  Those who are born of the Spirit are like the wind.

I love to lie in the grass of our backyard and look up into the limbs of our oak trees and watch as the winds of March move the leaves. Or to feel the wind off the ocean with its saltiness. Or to stand on a mountaintop and feel the wind around me and watch as that wind causes a hawk to rise and soar above me. There is life in that feeling of having the wind brush against me. To know that there are forces in the world that are greater than myself because it reminds me of a greater God who has set all of this in motion through the breath it takes to speak. The Word speaks words of creation. We are the breath and words of our Creator.

It's overwhelming to think of that and it fires my imagination.


"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled faces on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2nd Corinthians 3:17-18).

Where there is life, where there is wind, where there is breath, where there is Spirit there is the Lord, there is freedom. All throughout scripture, we see biblical figures, like Moses, who cannot look upon the face of God. Yet here, in this verse in 2nd Corinthians, we can see the very Spirit that gives life and be remade into that image. The Spirit that first gave us life now gives us new life. And, through Christ, we are filled with that Spirit, that wind. Through the Spirit our form is changed into the image of Christ. Through the fall of Adam, the image was lost. We could no longer see ourselves in the Imago Dei, but now, in Christ, that has been recovered and restored. Now we reflect the Divine Image.

Is this not the image we see when the Spirit commands the prophet Ezekiel, "Prophesy to the breath" (what a wonderful image to begin with. Prophesy breath. Prophesy life)?

 ". . .prophesy son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live" (37:9).

All of those images of breath and wind and Spirit tied into rebirth, of giving new life to those who were dead.

What I love about this connection God has made between breath and Spirit and life is that all of our life is spiritual; we cannot separate our lives into the sacred and the secular because it is all connected. There is no barrier. All of our lives are to the glory of God, our Creator who breathed life and breath into us. This breath. This heartbeat. They are to remind us of the Divine. In God is life.

Our every breath is praise.

Our every breath a prayer.







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