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Breath Bridge

In Acts 17, the author reminds us that God does not live in a sanctuary, or temple, or mosque, or cathedral, or anything made by human hands. This seems like a no-brainer to us, but the ancient people weren't there yet. Plus, the author tells us, God doesn’t need waited on (or, I would add, be worshipped), “as if God needed anything.” No, God is the one who breathes life into us.

The word “breath” in verse 25 comes from the feminine Greek word pneumo, which was translated into Latin as et inspirationem. Delving into these words a bit we find that pneumo was more than wind and breath, it implied that there was a motivational dimension to these winds, that the mind of God was present. And we find that inspirationem comes from the root inspiro which means to inspire, to breathe into, but better yet to “inspirit.” What a great word, to inspirit!

The Divine Breath is the One who inspirits all of life.

Furthermore, the author of Acts tells us, it is in this One - the breath, the wind, the very air around us, the One who inspirits us - in whom we live and move and have our being. God is in the very air surrounding us, and our every breath is the echo of divine presence moving in and through and around us.

Because breathing is such an automatic part of living, I don't really think about my breath too much. I tend to take it for granted, until a skunk sprays the dog right before bed, or the neighbor starts burning leaves and it blows right in the windows, or the pollen in the air causes the people around me to start using enormous amounts of tissue.

It's time to bring breathing and the air we live in back to consciousness. Breathing is a powerful act that benefits more than ourselves.

Br. David Steindl-Rast once wrote, "When we take a hearty breath, we give ourselves to the air we inhale; and when we give it out again, we take a quick break from breathing. This balance of giving and taking is the key to healthy living. It is a giving within taking and a taking within giving, a life-giving, give-and-take.”

And so breath becomes a bridge between so many things that we might not normally perceive as connected. Breath is a bridge between people – if we take the time to observe our breath we realize that this breath, this air, is not male or female, Christian or Muslim, white or brown or black, German or Irish or Spanish. Air is the life force that fills us and connects us.

Breath becomes a bridge between us and plants. They call it a symbiotic relationship – what we breathe out, plants breathe in. And what plants breathe out, we breathe in. We cannot exist without each other. Perhaps if we were more conscious of our breathing we would take more steps to care for our forests, and the quality of our air.

Breath is a bridge between us and animals. We all rely on air to sustain us.

Breath is a bridge between us and those who have gone before. Perhaps right now you and I are breathing in molecules of air that our great-great-grandparents breathed!

I'm sure you've all heard of mindfulness and know that paying attention to ones breathing is an important part of becoming mindful and aware. And so breath creates a bridge between our bodies and spirits, and between our bodies and our consciousness. 

Have you ever thought of all the memorable breaths you've experienced? The first breath of a child, the last breath of a loved one, puppy breath, a gasp of surprise, a sigh of relief, holding one’s breath (literally or figuratively), struggling to breathe due to asthma, a cold or crying, the first breath of springtime, or the seashore, being out of breath, a meditative breath. There are so many memorable breaths in life.

Now, what happens when we associate all those breaths with pneuma, the spirit, the inspirited one? Suddenly ordinary moments become even more holy, precious and sacred.

One other thought… without air we can’t have sound. We couldn’t hear laughter or words of kindness, encouragement and love. We couldn’t hear birds in the morning, or music at church, or the rain on the window. How many sounds do we take for granted and never connect to the simple air that surrounds us?

Unlike the other elements that we’re talking about during this series, air can’t be contained in the same way. People can stake out a piece of land, or dam up a river, or contain a fire, but air will not be bound. Even when we try. It leaks out of my car tires all the time! The Spirit, the Breath of God, the One who inspirits all life also cannot be contained.

May we take our breathing less for granted, the sound of so many good things less for granted, and develop a heightened consciousness of our own breathing as a physical and spiritual bridge to the divine and all other life in the world.

Love & Light!