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Breathe on Me, Breath of God

Today’s blog is taken from the reflection and prayer offered during Wednesday’s Prayer for the World. Shalem graduate Barb Kelly guided the time from her home in Empire, Michigan.

Although we can’t see each other, we can join together in prayer with love and compassion for all humanity and for all of creation.

During this half hour today, I will offer a brief reflection on the breath and how the breath can teach us to be more fully present to do God’s acts of compassionate justice for our world.

Let us begin by settling in. Simply let the breath breathe itself—letting the air come in and flow out. Take a slow, deep breath in and slowly release it…as you center in your heart space, the center of love and compassion.

I find myself thinking a lot about the breath these days—

There’s been, I notice, a change to my thoughts about the breath and breathing. Back in November or December, I mostly forgot about the breath, my breathing just went on, thank goodness, without my being aware of it. What would bring breathing to mind, then, was praying… as I used my breath to center in God, as a way to anchor myself in the presence of the Holy One.

And then, starting around February or so, I started thinking about the breath in terms of the COVID pandemic: wearing a mask; avoiding the breath of others because of this respiratory contagion of the coronavirus; thinking about how the virus affects us when we’re sick with it—the shortness of breath…

So the breath and breathing were no longer things I forgot very often. I attended to the breath, actually, with some sense of anxiety.

And now I am haunted by the words, “I can’t breathe.” Eric Garner killed in 2014. George Floyd killed on Memorial Day, both black men killed at the hands of white people who were charged to protect them. Killed at the hands of racism, the sin, the epidemic of racism.

“I can’t breathe.” So now, when I think of the breath, there is horror and anguish. And what comes with the breath now is also a charge to do something—an opening to new learning.

My years with Shalem have taught me that we can use the breath to carry us into the presence of God, to express our yearning to follow Jesus more closely. To learn how to be better and do better. The breath can teach us and show us ways to act more fully out of God’s love.

Tilden Edwards has said the breath reveals the illusion of separateness between us. The illusion of self-isolation (Living in the Presence, p.21). Our bodies are literally inter-dependent with other bodies, whether brown, black or white. He says the breath teaches us intimacy of the human-divine interconnection. The breath teaches us as well the unbreakable bond of the human-human interconnection. At the very least, this is also what the virus has taught us.

The breath is also teaching me that it is God’s breath, given from the mouth of God to the nostrils of the first human, mouth to mouth, as we learn in Genesis and hear about things “in the beginning.” And Ezekiel, as far as he could see, saw nothing but dry bones, and God said, “I will cause breath to enter them….”

This is God’s breath that we breathe. Whether brown or black or white. And the breath of God can teach us and lead us to acts of justice and compassion and love. As John of Ruysbroeck said in the 14th century: “The spirit of God Himself breathes us out from Himself that we may love and may do good works….”

So, let us be aware of our longing for justice, of the spirit of God breathing us out from Himself that we may love. Let us attend to our breath… and let it show us the way to Love.

I will end with this prayer from a favorite hymn:

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me G
lows with Thy fire divine.
– Edwin Hatch, 1878

During this week, may we continue to stay rooted and grounded in this love.

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Beth Jensen
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Beth Jensen

Thank you, Barb Kelly, for opening us to deeper understanding of God’s breath in us. “Come, Gracious Spirit, Heavenly Dove… …O’er every thought and step preside.” Simon Browne, 1680-1732 German folk tune, 15th century Beth Jensen