2-25-18 “Finding Your Breath: Listening to Our Bodies”
Breathing is one of those things that our bodies do without our having to think about it. It just happens. Until, of course, we begin thinking about it and then we become aware of every breath we take, we feel as though if we don’t think about it that we won’t breathe, and then we worry about how we’re ever going to get our minds off of breathing so that it can become automatic again and we don’t have to think about it any more….
We take breathing for granted, until it become difficult. When we battle a cold or flu, or struggle with COPD or emphysema, when we’ve worked our entire lives in a coal mine and develop black lung or some other disease, that which we took for granted is suddenly top of mind for us - each breath becomes a struggle.
But even as breathing seems like a personal thing, something that happens only within our own body, it is more than that. Breathing is a shared activity in more ways than you may realize. Certainly, we know that we can spread disease, cold and flu germs and other things, through breathing, but it goes beyond that. I shared with you once before an idea about the universality and eternal nature of our breath that I was told by some at the time, many didn’t really understand. So I want to revisit or try to breathe some new life, if you will, into that idea today.
What I shared in that earlier message is the idea that among the molecules that make up every breath we take in, and every breath that we exhale, is argon. It’s a simple molecule that has been part of every breath ever taken by every person and animal that has ever lived.
But unlike the oxygen and carbon dioxide in our breath that is lighter in weight and floats up into the atmosphere when we exhale, argon is heavier and stays here at ground level. When we walk around, in fact, we are in effect, wading and sloshing through a swamp of argon molecules. And another interesting thing about argon is that, like many molecules, it doesn’t break down - it doesn’t die. The same argon molecules that are in existence today were around when you were a child. The same argon molecules that hover nearby now were hovering during the American Revolution and the Protestant Reformation. In fact, some of the same argon molecules that you will breathe in during the next inhale you take…..yes, that one…were likely exhaled by Jesus, perhaps even as he sat with a towel around his waist, preparing to wash the feet of his disciples.
When we think about breath and breathing in that way, then our song “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” assumes a much deeper meaning for us.
In the Bible, the words translated as Spirit, pneuma in Greek and ruach in Hebrew, also have the dual meaning of breath. Breath and Spirit - the same words in both languages. And we might recognize that Greek root ‘pneuma’ in terms of the word pneumonia, which we know as a disease associated with breathing and with our lungs. So, when we read Scripture and read of the presence or work of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Pneuma, we’re being invited to think about the spirit as breath, as air, as wind. And Scripture supports those images - the Spirit hovered over the waters in the Creation story; God breathed life and Spirit into Adam; Jesus breathed the Spirit onto the Disciples; at Pentecost the Spirit came like a great wind. So, much like the silence that April shared in last week’s message that is necessary to be able to hear God speak to us, an awareness of our breath and our breathing is important to us in experiencing the Spirit of God in our bodies and in our lives. And with each breath that we take in, amidst that timeless and eternal argon that God created in the beginning, is the breath of God, the Spirit of God, that hovered over the waters, that crossed the lips of our Savior, and that fills us with life; eternal life, abundant life.
In ancient Israel, among some, it was considered blasphemy to speak the name of God. So the name Yahweh came into being to refer to God. Now, you may be aware that the Hebrew language has no vowels, so the letters of the name - in English the consonants YHWH, in Hebrew were Yod, Heh, Vah, Heh.
Say that with with me: Yod - Heh - Vah - Heh. And if you listen carefully to the sound of those letters, you can hear in them the sound of breath. Yod -Heh - Vah - Heh. The name of God is the sound of breath; the name of God is the sound of Spirit. And so, as we reflect more deeply we realize that with every breath we take, we speak the name of God. And Rob Bell points out that when we are born, the first thing we must do to embrace life is to breathe, that is to speak the name of God. And when the close of our life comes, the last thing we do before we die is to speak the name of God. Thought of another way, when we can no longer breathe, that is, when we can no longer speak the name of God, life passes from us as that final argon-filled breath exits our lungs.
And in a bit irony, Rob Bell also points out that even when we encounter someone who claims to be an atheist, as they sit across the table from us and speak the words, “THERE IS NO GOD,” with each breath they take to say those words, they speak the name of the very God - “Yod - Heh - Vah - Heh” who breathed life into them.
And so our passage from Romans today says, “in the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness.”
In the same way, it says. Breathe on me, breath of God. In the breath we take in the midst of our prayer, God “inspires” us, that is, God breathes spirit or life into us, we are filled with God’s Spirit.
And Paul says, “We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit pleads our case with unexpressed groans.”
We’ve all probably found ourselves at one time or another, unsure of what to pray, or unable to find or speak the words of prayer that we know are needed. Sometimes it’s because the pain we bear is so excruciating that all that emerges from our core being are groans. Paul assures us that the Holy Spirit is present in those groans that come from deep within us.
And sometimes, the simplest, most effective prayer we can make is the one expressed in a mere breath.
Breath prayer is a simple form of prayer that is spoken or thought in two parts, on the inhale and the exhale of a single breath. A common form of breath prayer that many like to use is built around what is called the Jesus prayer, and it’s done in this way: Inhale - Lord, Jesus Christ, Exhale - have mercy on me a sinner.
Can you try that? Inhale - Lord Jesus Christ - Exhale - have mercy on me a sinner.
Others find it helpful or comforting to pray or meditate on a line from a hymn in this way:
Inhale - Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound - Exhale - that saved a wretch like me.
And still others take a short passage of scripture for us in their breath prayer:
Inhale - nothing can separate us from God’s love - Exhale - in Jesus Christ our Lord.
So, I invite you now to take a moment, and let’s each of us just think about a line of scripture or music, or if you prefer, try the Jesus prayer, and let’s quietly speak the name of God in the form of breath prayers for a minute.
As he washed the disciples feet, Jesus told them that they didn’t understand what he was doing, but that they would understand later. What Jesus was doing was trying to help them understand that they needed to think differently about what it meant to be his disciple.
Being a follower of Jesus meant to be a servant, yes,
but it was about more than that even.
In this story, Jesus took off his robes.
That is, he was naked - totally vulnerable before them. And he wrapped a towel around his waist and he took the position of a servant. And in doing so he attempted to connect with them at an intimate, spiritual level that they had never before experienced. His disciples were not the crown princes of great families, they weren’t priests or business leaders or politicians - they were the working poor. They were the least, the last, and the lost.
And before them, the Son of God stripped down to nothing and took the position of a servant in order to connect totally, intimately with them.
And as he did this, as they spoke among themselves and as Peter questioned, on behalf of all of them, what it was Jesus was doing, Jesus - having loved them fully, the passage says - connected with them in body, mind, and spirit in a way that they didn’t yet understand, but that they would later.
In Jesus’ message and action, in every breath that he took and with every God-naming word he spoke, he modeled what Paul would later write, “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God…”
Two thousand years ago, the disciples who gathered around the table with Jesus heard the name of God in every word he spoke, they shared the breath of God in every breath they took. Two thousand years later, with every breath we take in, with every breath we breathe out, the breath of God inspires, that is breathes into us, the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ. When Paul tells us that nothing - neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor present things or future things, nor powers or height or depth - can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, he speaks some of the most profound words of grace and eternal blessing that we find in all of Scripture.
There is nothing that you can do, nothing you can say, nothing at all that will separate you from the love of God because the love of God, the Spirit of God, is within you. It is in who you are and in how you are made.
It is in every breath you take and every breath you’ve ever taken. It is in every word you speak; even the angry words, the judgmental words, even the most hate-filled words, are surrounded by the Spirit of God - the Yod - Heh- Vah - Heh - of every breath you speak, because that is who you truly are in the eyes of God, created in the image of God. And with every breath we take God seeks to inspire us to live in the likeness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
Nothing, can separate you from the love of God. Nothing. And if we question that, if we somehow doubt that, all I can offer to you are the words of hope that Jesus offered to his disciples - “You don’t understand now, but you will understand later.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.