A Breath of Fresh Air

Have you ever noticed that we have lots of sayings that imply that the wind—the natural wind, the wind that blows so fiercely in March and early April—that wind brings change? A quick Google search brought up lots of examples, and I’ll bet you can think of more:

  • The winds of change
  • Fly like the wind
  • Get your second wind
  • Two sheets to the wind (not sure what this one means)
  • An ill will blows no good
  • Scattered to the four winds
  • Don’t spit into the wind (as in, don’t fight change)
  • Take the wind out of someone’s sails (says something about taking away someone’s hope for change)
  • Let’s see which way the wind blows
  • There’s something in the wind (we’re starting to feel something new)
  • Wind at your back (which means you’re having an easy time of it, because the wind is with you, not against you).

When I was little, I thought the wind was the breath of God. I mean, it made sense…people had told me—because I was super afraid of storms–that thunder was God bowling. I know they were trying to be helpful, but that’s actually a pretty terrifying image when you think of it. What happens when one of those giant pins falls over on us?! We’re squashed, like bugs. Later I heard someone say that thunder was actually God laughing and I liked that a lot better. It was easy to imagine God getting tickled about something and having a growly bear voice—like my dad—when he laughed.

So if thunder was God it made sense to me that the wind was God, too. I gave God credit for painting the blues and purples and pinks in the sky—the orange sunrises, and the soft pastels of the evening clouds. And God’s breath was what moved those clouds across that painted sky. It was all a living masterpiece, put there for our pleasure by the grace of God. (Although in elementary school I wouldn’t have called it that. I would have said God did it all because he was kind and he wanted us to be happy. I actually still believe that, by the way.)

When I was in second grade at IPS school 103, we had Religious Education on Tuesday mornings at 9:00am. I don’t know whether you remember those classes, or whether you had them, but back in those days it was okay to teach kids the basics of faith in a public school without going too deeply into anything.  We met in a portable classroom and I remember climbing the trailer-like steps and then sitting down at a little table. We’d listen to stories and do worksheets and the ladies teaching were always nice. One day, I was confused about this three-in-one God they were talking about. I knew God as that kind smiling Everything—in the trees, in the sky, in the animals, in life itself—but I couldn’t make sense of a God that was three different things, all wrapped in one.

I remember putting my hand up, and the teacher came over and looked at my worksheet. She tried to explain who each of those three people inside God were. First there was God. Then there was God’s son, Jesus. Then there was something called the Holy Spirit. But they were all really God. I sat there and shook my head. My worksheet stayed blank.

Then she had an idea. “Does your mom use three-way light bulbs at your house?” She asked me. I nodded, deciding not to tell her I never turned the knob the third time because that made the lamp way too bright and it hurt my eyes. “That’s how something can be three-in-one,” she said. “Turn it once, it’s God. Turn it again, it’s Jesus. Turn it again, it’s the Holy Spirit.”

Now, standing here some 45 years later, I can’t honestly say I think that example holds up. And I’m not really sure I ever did complete that worksheet either. But it did open my mind to a new way to thinking about God, not only as this kind, benevolent Everything I had gotten to know but as someone, something that is truly limitless, appearing in whatever form is needed so he can be with us and within us, bringing us comfort, wisdom, connection, hope, inspiration the moment we need it—or even before.

In our New Testament story today, we hear about Jesus coming to be with the disciples in the locked room of the house where they’re hiding. After the happenings of the last few days, ending with Jesus’ crucifixion, they were desperately afraid. Would they be next? They thought the elders of their community, the Jewish leaders might be looking for them.

If you’ve ever felt locked in a place of fear, you know that when we’re that afraid we tend to hide, we constrict, we stop moving. We make ourselves small so we won’t be noticed, so whatever it is we’re afraid of will leave us alone. That’s human nature—we’re just trying to make ourselves safe. But instead of trusting each other, we pull back and stay in. Instead of trying new things, we stick with the known, the easy, the predictable. We may not even notice how fear is locking us in until one day we look around and realize how much smaller our lives have gotten.

But Jesus—he’s limitless, remember, three-in-one—he comes right on into that locked and fear-filled room. He shows the disciples his hands and his side so they will know without at doubt that it is him. He says, “Peace be with you.” To their jangly energy of fear, he brings a smooth sense of ease and calm.

And when they recognize him, the scripture says, they rejoice. Rejoicing to me sounds a bit like breaking free, free of that fear that had made them small. Now they are shouting in surprise instead of being hushed and afraid, jumping up and hugging him instead of hiding against a wall. The peaceful energy of Jesus rejoices them right out of their locked and fearful state.

And then Jesus does something interesting. He says, “Peace be with you,” a second time. It’s as though Jesus calls them back to peace, not only when they are fearful and their energy is low, but also when they are rejoicing and their energy is high. Whether the moment is one of crisis or joy, Jesus says don’t get caught up in either one—instead, come back to peace. That’s where I am. And his next sentence tells them why that’s so important. He says, “As the Father sends me, so I send you.” The peace of Christ isn’t just a kindness God gives us when we are locked in fear. The peace of Christ is what we share with others. That’s how the light gets spread.

As Jesus says that, he breathes on those gathered and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. This moment takes us all the way back to the second chapter of Genesis and the first divine breath, when God himself breathes the breath of life into the nostrils of the very first human he had just created from dust. Here, Jesus is breathing into his friends a second breath of life—perhaps this is the breath not of earthly life, but of eternal life—a life now lived with the light of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The word spirit comes from the Latin word spiritus, which means “breath.” In Hebrew and Aramaic, the word for spirit is “ruach,” and one of my commentaries says, “In Hebrew, the word ruach cannot be construed as a person. It is a force. It is invisible and like wind, because it can be felt or experienced, but not seen. It is the breath of God which disperses His life-force, his energy, and his intentions and mind.”

Before the moment when Jesus gave those gathered the gift of the Holy Spirit, the spirit had been active in the world, comforting the mournful, leading the lost, encouraging the discouraged. But from this moment, the friends of Jesus would be empowered from within. The light now lived within them. And as Jesus said, their task and their mission—and our task and our mission–is to share that light with the world.

The light is meant to be shared because the end goal of the Holy Spirit is ultimately fellowship—leading us into the fellowship of God, through Christ, with one another. God is knitting us back together; it is the purpose of this plan of Love. We can hear all three roles—three-in-one!— shared clearly at the end of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, when he signs off with a beautiful blessing. He writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”

When Jesus speaks peace to our fear, the winds of change no longer threaten or alarm us in the way they once did. They become simply a breath of fresh air, bringing something new into our lives that the Holy Spirit will help us meet.

That’s infinitely better than a three-way light bulb, don’t you think? A perfect plan, a living love, redemptive and renewing grace–all shining through us today to bring Love’s answer to every need we find in our hurting world.



  • OT Psalm 36: 7-9
  • NT: John 20: 19-23

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