Yesterday at Hancock Health I had the blessing of participating in a virtual Good Friday service we offered for our community, knowing that many, many people this Holy Week will be unable to go out and attend services as they normally would. Here I want to share the first of two reflections I offered in that service.
Just here, just now, as we gather for a new kind of Good Friday service together, this is a good time for us to pause and take a breath. A good, deep breath brings us a moment of calm; it slows things down; it prepares our minds and hearts for something new.
The amazing blessing of a single breath is something we typically take for granted because we do it so often and so automatically. But with a little noticing, a little mindfulness, we discover that breathing in deeply, intentionally, is a simple act of self-care that can help us find calm when we’re upset or worried or grieving. On a biological level, deep breaths add oxygen to our bloodstream, which sends a signal to our fight-or-flight response that it’s okay to calm down. All is well. On a spiritual level, deep breaths bring a feeling of refreshment and renewal, creating more space inside and—maybe just for a moment–freeing us from whatever has been occupying our minds.
The word “spirit” comes from the Latin word spiritus, meaning breath, and throughout time the ideas of breath and spirit have traveled together inseparably. Jesus’ last words on the cross committed his spirit into God’s hands, and then he took his last breath. Spirit and breath together. God breathed our first ancestor into being in the Garden of Eden, and as Job says in chapter 33, verse 4: “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
It is no different for us today, millennia later. Right here in the midst of this unusual Holy Week, the breath of the Almighty continues to give us life. With that in mind, our breath—each breath, any breath–can become a prayer, a way of connecting to God in the here and now.
Breathing in slowly, we might say inwardly, “Welcome, God.” And breathing out gently, “Thank you, God.” Prayed once or many times, this tiny prayer can help us stay aware that God is with us through the day and express our gratitude for God’s faithfulness and love.
Breathing can also be a prayer for community if we choose. There are 7.8 billion people across the globe, right now, breathing in and out just like we do, a thousand times an hour, 25,000 times a day. We are each breathing in refreshment and breathing out tension, tiredness, and stress. The breath of the Almighty is giving us all life, whether we realize it at this moment or not.
If we find ourselves in a place where people are dealing with difficult emotions—anxiety, upset, anger, sorrow—our breath can serve as a silent prayer, perhaps adding calm to moments of struggle.
- We can breathe in the heartache around us and breathe out peace.
- We can breathe in anxiety and breathe out safety.
- We can breathe in loneliness and breathe out belonging.
- We can breathe in judgment and breathe out kindness and mercy.
With a little mindful attention, our breath can become a living prayer we can offer in any moment, in any setting. Our inner lives will feel refreshed and renewed, and God’s love and light will spill over into our outer lives as well, sharing peace and calm and ease where it is needed most.
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