And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. Genesis 2:7
True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Psalm 23:3
He breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22
In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being. Job12: 9-10
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! Ezekiel 37:5
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Psalm 150:6
Every month, we post a “Reflection,” something we’ve been pondering and want to share with those who’d like to listen. I don’t see it as a teaching time, just some wonderings- a result of something that piqued my curiosity- an article, scripture reading, or something in the beauty or harshness of nature. This month, in the season of Lent, I have been noticing a desire for simplicity.
It doesn’t get much more simple than breathing. Breathe in- Breathe out.
She steps up to the diving board, the piano bench, or the speaker’s podium. It’s her turn. There it is…the deep breath, meant to calm the nerves and focus the mind.
A baby is born- we wait in hushed anticipation and then celebrate that first breath outside the womb—the breath of life. We await the last breath of one who is dying, when the breath of life ceases.
When something stirs the most intense of emotions, we say it “takes our breath away.” I experienced it once- it was totally out of my control. I stood and turned to face the back of the chapel to watch the beautiful bride, my daughter, walk down the aisle, escorted by my husband. I heard and felt myself involuntarily gasp, overwhelmed in the moment.
The beauty of a magnificent sunset, or the immensity of the views in the Alaskan scenery- we call it breathtaking!
In prayerful meditation or mindfulness exercise, or yoga classes, we are encouraged to take a deep breath to help us relax, focus, and settle in. Physiologic changes begin.
We speak of holding our breath in anticipation of a situation where the outcome is uncertain, or catching our breath when we’re out of breath from exercise.
I’m sure you can think of more examples as you consider the prominence of the breath in our everyday lives and in the scriptures. Things can become quite profound very quickly if we take time to notice and reflect.
I am captivated by my thoughts’ journey when I realize that God intentionally designs us to breathe. God didn’t have to do that. We could have been created without that feature. We breathe faster when we are anxious, exercising, or need more oxygen to supply our body’s needs, slower when we are at rest. All because of God’s masterful design.
An abundance of research shows off what tiny bit we humans understand about God’s design for breathing. Neuroscience tells us that deep breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve, slowing down the body’s stress response, allowing more acute awareness of the senses; increased clarity of hearing and vision. The genius of what the act of deep breathing accomplishes is all part of God’s unique design. Science always points back to the Creator if we’re willing to take the time to discover it. I think breathing is all about a relationship. With God. The invitation to be mindful of not only our breath itself but the presence of God, our breath-giver. A way to stay in intimate presence with God, as close as our breath.
And to think that it all started when God formed a human-shaped lump from the dust of the very earth He had just spoken into being. God breathed His very own breath- Nishmat Chayim- Hebrew for gasps of life- into that clay image. And humankind began. Formed in the image of God and brought to life with the breath of God.
Job said, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4.
But God didn’t stop there, just a one-and-done puff of air to start our life-engine.
*Ruach is the Hebrew word for breath or spirit of life. Ongoing life. God designed in us an innate rhythm- inhale, exhale, to practice for the entirety of our lives. Pondering this ongoing and mostly effortless physical process of breathing -receiving the new and releasing the old, brings an invitation to reflect on the metaphors of beautiful spiritual implications: living breath by breath, moment by moment with God.
As I renew and release, my soul fills with the Ruach of God. David prayed, “…renew a steadfast Ruach within me.” Psalm 51:10
*Ruach has various Hebrew meanings, and I invite you to spend a little time researching and reflecting on this word and its Greek counterpart, Pneuma.
I think of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, explaining to him that he must be born again- the picture of dying to himself and breathing the breath of new life as a follower of Jesus.
Breathing in the good news of the gospel of love and forgiveness and releasing the old ways of guilt and shame was made possible for all people when Jesus went to the cross, released His spirit and breathed his last. His last breath as a human.
Picture Jesus rising from the dead, having once become fully human, now alive and breathing deeply within the Trinity from whence he came. Imagine him appearing to the disciples after his resurrection, bringing the gift of peace to them, and then, “…he breathed on them, and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”
There it is; as God breathed the breath of life into Adam, God now breathes the Holy Spirit of God on those who follow him.
The breathing God designed us to do now serves a beautiful function since Jesus has given us new life as one of his own through his death and resurrection.
The physiologic aspects of breathing remain constant, the exchange of the unnecessary for life-giving breath. Now, our breathing can remind us of the gift of God’s presence within us, and serves as a beautiful meeting place for us to attune to God. “The nearness of God is my good,” says David in Psalm 73.
So in all my Lenten musings about breath, I come to this:
God is intimately close and infinitely powerful. The same God that spoke the universe into being and designed the beauty of the human is the One who is as close as the gift I receive: my very breath.
God designed me to breathe and shows me the deep longing and desire God has to be with me. God is present, even when I am not attentive to my breathing, and that’s beautiful. God will never leave me.
What a privilege to breathe deeply, taking deep draughts of grace and love, releasing anxiety and stress, and abide with God in peace. May it be so for us all.
Just breathe. Breathe deep. Receive the gift. Exhale your praise.
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Psalm 150
As you’ve read this reflection, you’ve already taken anywhere from 50 to 100 breaths.
Below is a simple prayer practice that may be life-giving for your soul. It takes only as long as you would like it to and invites you to be with God, praying as you notice your breath.
A BREATH PRAYER EXERCISE
Settle yourself for a moment and reflect on the state of your soul. How are you today?
Now, take a deep breath or two, noticing the gift of your breath.
Slowly and thoughtfully make your way through the breathing exercise below as you inhale God’s gift and exhale what you’d like to release, moving from left to right, breathing in and breathing out. Take a short pause between breaths. Notice that the exhale list allows you to identify and breathe out specific things that surface in your prayer.
Breathe In. . .
Breathe in God’s PRESENCE . . .
Breathe out GRATITUDE . . .
Breathe in God’s PEACE . . .
Breathe out ANXIETY about . . .
Breathe in God’s LOVE . . .
Breathe out FEAR of …
Breathe in God’s KINDNESS . . .
Breathe out JUDGEMENT toward . . .
Breathe in God’s PATIENCE . . .
Breathe out URGENCY in . . .
Breathe in God’s COMFORT…
Breathe out PAIN in . . .
Breathe in God’s MERCY . . .
Breathe out SIN of . . .
Breathe in God’s FAITHFULNESS . . .
Breathe out PRAISE!
When you finish the Breath Prayer, sit quietly, abiding in God’s presence, or add any additional breath prayers of your own. End your time with a full and deep breath of gratitude.
Going forward, may your on-purpose deep breaths remind you that your breath is a precious gift from the One who created you, loves you, and breathes His own life-breath into you.