01 June 2006

breathing

From Psalm 104:24-35, 35b: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created . . .”

When my wife and I lived in Savannah, on most Tuesday or Thursday nights you could find us in a Yoga class over at the YMCA on Habersham. If you don’t know much about Yoga, it is a way of exercising where you stretch yourself into different positions that relieve muscle tension . . . and mental tension for that matter. It is a way of exercising that I used to think was pretty easy . . . that’s before I actually tried it myself.

After all, I thought all you did was breathe deeply and stretch in order to do Yoga. My wife had been doing this for a couple of years before we started at the YMCA; this was her exercise. I, on the other hand, am a runner. Running is a very physical activity, a sport of endurance and struggle. I’m counting miles that I have run, hours that I have run. I sweat when I run. How in the world would you sweat with Yoga . . . I wasn’t sure. What in the world is sitting on a mat with my legs crossed and stretching this way and that, what kind of good was Yoga going to do for me? That’s what I thought about it.

As you can tell, I wasn’t all that enthused when my wife somehow talked me into a Yoga class for the first time . . . but I went. Our wives have their way of getting us to do things that we didn’t think we would ever do. And I’ll tell you that after an hour and a half of stretching with our Yoga instructor Michelle, I was tired. I even sweated a bit. And the next day, I was sore. And I hated to admit it to my wife, but I was glad that I went.

When I read the Psalmists words in the passage listed above, talking about breath and life, I am reminded of Yoga. Michelle, our Yoga instructor there at the YMCA, used to say at the beginning of class, “Start by focusing on your breath, how you are breathing; it is probably the first time you have focused on your breath all day.” And most of the time, she would be right. As I would be sitting there on a foam mat with my legs crossed, I would realize at that very moment that my day had been very busy. I would suddenly think about all that I had done that day. I had done so much (or else I had spun my wheels so much that I didn’t get much done at all, but certainly spent a lot of energy in the process—you’ve all had those days too).

But there, in that moment of sitting there, focusing on our breath, Michelle would ask us to take note of how we were breathing and to try to breathe correctly, from our bellies, from the diaphragm, so that your stomach pokes out when you inhale. We were to hold that breath for a second and then release it slowly, feeling the air gently leave our lungs, breathing out the tension and trouble of the day so that on our next inhalation, we could breathe in new air, so that we could be renewed. We would sit like that for a few minutes, just focusing on our breath before we would begin our exercise. And even though Michelle who was sitting in front of us never said a word other than to direct our breathing, she as speaking to us of God.

We are reminded that our breath is our life.

We are reminded that our life is God; it is out of the breath of God, the Spirit of God that we have life; and without that breath, we have no life.

This psalm speaks of the wonders of the seas and the earth . . . and the wonderful God that created them all. This is the God who gives the blessings of life and health, food and nourishment. This is the God who wishes good for you and me and not evil. The psalmist is reminding us of all the good things that God has given us, even the things that we do not notice, even the things that we do not see. This God is even in the air that we breathe, the breath that you just took, the breath that I inhaled in order to be able to speak here this morning. This psalm is a reminder that without God we are nothing; we have our life and breath in the life and breath of God.

This word that the scriptures use for breath is related to the word that we call Spirit, and it is also related to the word that we use for wind. We may be reminded of the words in Genesis 1 of how the Spirit of God, the Breath of God, the Wind of God moved over the waters prior to Creation.

When I think about this wind, about any wind, I am reminded of the way that a breeze is needed to create the sound of wind chimes. I am reminded of the way that a sailboat must position itself so that the wind on the water will fill the sail. Only in that way can the sailboat move; without the wind it would remain still, going nowhere. I am reminded of the way that you can watch trees move in a breeze but you are not quite able to see what is moving the limbs and the leaves. You can hear the creak of the tree bending, but not see the wind that moves it. I am reminded of times that my wife and I have gone out to the beach to fly a kite. To walk across the sand with those strings in our hand. We are trying our best to position that kite just right in order to catch the wind, to feel it tug, to keep that kite in the air, to see it fly.

What is the thing that you think about when you think about wind? For without the wind, there could not be the sound of the chimes; without God, we too cannot make music. Without God, we too would be immobile, stuck on the sea somewhere, our sails sitting useless. It is that wind of God that gives us life and joy and song and beauty.

On Pentecost Sunday we consider this “mighty rushing wind,” a wind that was the beginning of the Christian church. And this wind was not a gentle breeze but a strong wind, a wind of change and newness that occurred that day. It had been 50 days since the resurrection, that’s where we get the word Pentecost from, from those 50 days that had passed. Jesus had been walking and talking with the disciples . . . and as we read last Sunday, Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus left the disciples . . . but not without a promise. Jesus promised that the comforter would come. The Holy Spirit was coming to be with the disciples, to teach them, to counsel them, to aid them. This word for Spirit, is related to the word for wind, for breath. As much as we breathed in our first breath as we were born, the picture we have of Pentecost is the first full breath of the church. This is the beginning, the birthday of the Christian church.

You see, as the disciples were there that day, this mighty rushing wind appeared. And even though we may think of a strong wind as something that brings destruction, something like a hurricane or a tornado, this wind did not bring chaos and disorder. It may have been a wind that was frightening in a way. But wonderful and powerful changes in our lives can be frightening. But this wind of God did not inspire fear. No one would run away. No one would be scattered by this wind. This wind of God, this breath of God brought unity instead.

This is the miracle of Pentecost: Everyone was able to hear and understand everyone else. The barriers that existed between the people gathered there that day were suddenly gone. The most obvious struggle was to communicate the message of God, the good news of Jesus, to people who spoke different languages. The miracle of Pentecost is that this wind brought unity, the ability to hear and understand each other. The barrier of language was no more.

This is the way that the breath of God works; it is how the breath of God worked in that day. It is how the breath of God works today. It is how the breath of God works in this church too. For without the Spirit of God here, we are nothing. I don’t care what we do in our congregations; if God is not in it, if we do not take those moments to stop and breathe, to listen to God, we are nothing. And in each of our lives, we must make sure that we acknowledge that all good things come from this God that loves us so. This God that gives us breath and life, that gives breath and life to the church, that give life and breath to each of us.

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