An Ever-Present Rhythm
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gen. 2:7, NIV).
And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn. 20:22, NIV).
One of the most beautiful images in our world is that of a newborn baby taking its first breath. This image connects us to the primordial image of God breathing the first breath into Adam … giving humanity the gift of life.
This first breath of that newborn begins a symbiotic relationship with the heart; as each breath provides much-needed oxygen to the muscles and organs of the body. And throughout our lives, the rhythm of our breathing and of our heart continues, working together and allowing us to run, to jump, to love and to live.
These things are basic functions of the body … so basic that we usually don’t think about them … they just automatically happen. Yet unlike our heartbeat—from time to time we do focus on our breathing. Sometimes, we forget to breathe. Research shows, for example, that we often get winded going up stairs simply because we hold our breath instead of breathing normally as we ascend them. At other times, we find that when we focus on our breathing, we can relax and calm our anxiety. And, running coaches will often work with their athletes on proper breathing as they run … breathing in during one stride and out over two or three successive strides. But most of the time, our breathing just happens, no conscious thought needed.
Just as God breathed into Adam, and as a baby draws its first breath, Jesus breathed the Spirit out upon his disciples in the Upper Room. I like to think that at some point in my spiritual journey, Christ did the same thing to and for me … leaning in and getting close … breathing on me and telling me to receive His Spirit. No, I didn’t have one of those dramatic experiences where I suddenly was overcome by emotion and was miraculously possessed by the Gifts of the Spirit. But, knowing that I possess and exercise at least a few of these at some point in my journey, I started to Breathe … the Spirit … and not just oxygen. And in the same way, when we Breathe the Spirit—it works symbiotically with our Heart—our physical presence here in this world. The Breath of the Spirit gives us resources that we need to perform and to effectively function in this world in relationships with others, in understanding our purpose, in exercising patience and in showing love to one another. Indeed, just like the muscles and organs of our corporeal body cannot function without oxygen, the expressions of our physical presence in this world desire the Imago Dei – the image of God—to function at our best and to not be out of Breath when we climb the stairs of our relationships, to remain calm in anxious times and to be a Light in this world.
But unlike the physiological breath that we breathe, the Breath of the Spirit doesn’t happen automatically. Indeed, our Coach in this ultimate race coaches us to take time out to focus on our breathing—to go to the garden or to our secret place—in order to run the race and to win the prize.
So, if this worldwide journey with the COVID-19 pandemic has you feeling a bit breathless perhaps it’s time to do a little respiratory therapy. And like the running coach’s advice, what you breathe in will be expelled over a far greater distance than the time it takes to breathe in!
Prayer: Breathe on me, Breath of God that I may experience life in the fullness that only you can give. Amen.
Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains