The Holy Spirit: The Breath of God!

Acts 2:1-21

John 20:19-23

“The bush was always burning. It just took someone moving slow enough to notice it.”

—Rob Bell, May 15, 2017, The Festival of Homiletics

“When did the Spirit of Life last touch you? You know when it was… If it happened before, it can happen again…”

— Barbara Brown Taylor, May 19, 2017, The Festival of Homiletics

It showed up on my news feed a few days ago: an advertisement for a new product called “Spire: A Mindfulness and Activity Tracker for iOS and Android.”

Many of you will know this about me: I have been wearing a pedometer for as long as I can remember. It is so that over time the devise I use has become far more sophisticated, but the basic concept is the same. It counts my steps and motivates me to get up and get moving so as to make my daily goal of at least 10,000. This new product is different though. From what I can tell, while it continues to monitor movement, it also recognizes the need in each of us to pay attention to what is most basic: our every breath and in so doing to improve our health. In fact, as I understand it, it can ‘tell’ when your breathing becomes shorter in length. It calls you out on the level of tension you are carrying. And it repeats the words my coach and therapist has spoken to me for more than twenty years. “Take slow deep breaths now…” whenever it is I need to pace myself and pay attention. This is, in fact, the most valuable part of practicing yoga for me — even beyond the ways in which it improves my flexibility. It slows me down. I breathe more deeply. I pay attention to my next breath and the one after that. And the result is that I encounter the world itself more deeply. I am simply more present.

We have heard of the Holy Spirit’s association with “breath” before, of course:

We hear it today as we again remember Jesus breathing on his disciples as he imparts the gift of the Holy  Spirit to them in John’s Gospel.

And, yes, we hear about it in the Pentecost account in Acts where the flames are accompanied by wind — the very Breath of God.

And surely we can’t help but be taken back to the creation account in Genesis where God’s own breath becomes Adam’s breath and thus, also, our own.

Breathing is something we take for granted, of course. Until we can’t. Or our breathing becomes labored or impaired in some way. Indeed, I spent some hours this week at the side of one of our own who was intubated for surgery. Afterward, they were working hard to take the breathing apparatus away, but her lungs had been compromised by her recent surgery. And so it was that her niece leaned in close for hours encouraging her to breathe deeply so that her lungs would take in the oxygen needed so that they might take the next step together in her healing. As a result, I have to say that I found myself paying closer attention to my own breathing. Indeed, for a time there my breath actually matched hers and I found that every breath became prayer that this suffering might pass soon.

Breathing is something we take for granted, until we can’t or it becomes difficult.

  • Indeed, how many days do I walk through my hours and not even notice my breathing?
  • And if that is the case, is it possible that I also miss the ‘burning bush’ — or in keeping with this week’s celebration, the flames on the very heads of God’s Own who are called to lives of witness and service we surely could not have imagined on our own?
  • How often is the Spirit of Life actually moving in and around me and I haven’t paused long enough to notice it?

I don’t know that I need to purchase a Spire to help me remember to breathe, but I don’t imagine it could hurt. In fact, I can’t help but wonder what difference it might make if I were to just intentionally pause to breathe more often than when I’m on my yoga mat or starting or ending my day in prayer?

  • Might I see that burning bush, those flames of fire all around as pictured in the scene in Acts today?
  • Might I sense the Spirit of Life more surely than I otherwise would?
  • Might it be that God, in fact, gave me breath, gave us breath that this might be so?
  • And might it make all the difference if I just were to acknowledge that many times every day instead of just occasionally?

Indeed, perhaps this Pentecost you and I are called to simply watch for the flames which are already burning. Maybe we will be more able to more fully take note of them because we simply stand still to breathe God’s Own Breath.

And, oh, it is so that I saw that flame burning in a devoted niece a few days ago who leaned in and told her beloved Aunt to breathe deeply. And in the nurse who literally danced across the room when it became clear they would be able to extubate. Small flames, perhaps, but both witnesses to the Breath of God who always brings life!

  • What do you make of Rob Bell’s assertion that ‘the bush was always burning?’ It makes sense to me for it is so that all of Scripture asserts the constant presence of God. What do you think?
  • What would it take for you to ‘slow down and notice’ as Moses did? How might you better take note of the ‘Spirit of Life’ moving in and around us all the time?
  • I have offered a couple of places in Scripture where the Breath of God is experienced. Can you think of others?

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