Breathe On Me, Breath of God: A Personal Reflection

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Beth Kirby, Servants of Christ, Gainesville

“I can’t breathe.” This phrase has reverberated through our collective national consciousness in the last few months. The brutal death of George Floyd has led to numerous protests, as well as many participants wearing masks emblazoned with the words, “I can’t breathe.” I was struck by the confluence of three things: Covid-19, a disease which robs people of breath; mask-wearing due to the pandemic, which makes it difficult to breathe for many; and finally, Floyd’s dying plea as he was robbed of his breath. All three of these things come together to bring an awareness of the importance of breath.

Have you felt suffocated in the past months? Besides the physical suffocation of Covid-19 and masks, we have been mentally and emotionally suffocated by stay-at-home orders, economic loss and uncertainty, and close quarters with no place to go. The sense of suffocation of rights felt by many people of color weighs heavily on many of us, and exponentially more on those who have experienced injustice personally. Contemplating the unknowns of the near future can feel like losing one’s breath. Will we ever return to “normal”? Should we?

Our household spans three generations and includes two young adults who are just beginning to find their way into their futures. Trying to find routines for work, meals, housekeeping and leisure activities when we have been removed from all of our work and school and community settings, and put on top of each other, has been an uneven path at best! We’ve had many spiritual conversations during the pandemic. While it is tempting to feel doubt, fear, and even despair over the stagnation and uncertainty we currently face, may I suggest that this is really a time to lean even more fully into trust in the Lord who holds the future in his hands!

At the beginning of the national emergency, there was faint hope that we might be able to re-open by Easter. What a glorious symbolism that would hold - the celebration of the resurrection for believers, and even for the secular culture a celebration of spring and new life. Easter came and went and still we waited . . . isolated and shut away from our communities and normal celebrations. In the post-Easter story, we find more talk about breath. When Jesus appears to the disciples who are locked away and afraid, he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  This week, our communities face more uncertainty regarding additional closures and school re-entry plans. Much is unknown about the right way forward. But keep in mind, the disciples did not go forth in boldness and confidence to plant and grow the Body of Christ until they had received power from on high, the breath of the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost. This was the real birth of the Church.

Friends, we need to pray for breath, but not just a return to comfortable, but for the Holy Spirit to be breathed out upon us. This is a time for the Church to be a witness: of love and care for others and of trust in a powerful and loving God. This is not possible on our own human power! Our humanity would have us paralyzed, fearful, railing in unrighteous anger, or, at best, attempting to find the way forward on our own, breathless and weary. We need the comfort, guidance, and boldness of the Holy Spirit to be the Body of Christ to our world, right now.

 

“Breathe on me, breath of God

Fill me with life anew.

That I may love what thou dost love

And do what thou wouldst do.”

Amen.