Dear friends and members of GRPC.
I want to pass on some thoughts that I received from a pastor-friend of mine recently in one of our supporting churches (MTW support) in Illinois. I have modified it a bit.
When is the last time you heard or read anything positive about breath? Now that we’ve all become experts on the effects and spread of airborne respiratory particles, we cringe when we hear a cough or sneeze in a public place (and feel the stares of those around us when we do so ourselves!).
It feels like masks and the avoidance of breath have been a way of life for us for far too long. But perhaps it’s time for a change of connotation.
In C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there is a scene in which Aslan infuses young Susan with much needed courage. How he does it assuages her fears, and reminds her of the power of his presence:
Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, “Susan,”
Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying.
“You have listened to fears, child,” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”
“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.
We could all stand to feel a little braver right now. The uncertainty of the present coupled with the slower-than-anticipated progression of a COVID-free future has had a daunting effect on all of us. And while the breath of another is something to be avoided, we long to feel the breath of God that reminds us of His presence. In a time when there is no shortage of words analyzing and dissecting the present and forecasting the future, we need more of God’s breath and less human chatter. And like Susan, we need help to stop listening to fears.
There are several key moments in Scripture where the breath of God forms the climax of the narrative. But none are more poignant than the most important “behind closed doors meeting” in history. John describes it in chapter 20 of his Gospel. The disciples were gathered in such clandestine fashion for fear of the Jewish leaders, for it was the evening of the day Jesus was resurrected. Amid that fear and uncertainty, Jesus says little. But what speaks volumes are the scars the disciples see and feel in His hands and His side. Then Jesus allows them to feel not just His scars but His breath. John records that Jesus “breathed on them” as they received the Holy Spirit.
When words fail, when our courage falters, we need to feel the breath of God anew. It’s no wonder that wind and breath are two of the most prominent descriptions of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. The presence of the Spirit, promised by Jesus, would be the most powerful indicator of His presence among His people on earth. He may have left the earth physically, but His breath still empowers His people through the Holy Spirit.
Many believe Lewis had this narrative from John 20 in mind when he penned the encounter between Aslan and Susan. Edwin Hatch definitely had it in mind when he composed the well-known hymn “Breathe on Me, Breath of God.” Like the event that inspired it, the hymn contains few words, yet conveys God’s power: “Breathe on me Breath of God, till I am wholly thine, until this earthly part of me glows with the fire divine” (verse 3).
May He breathe on us, so that the fire of His presence gives us great courage for these challenging days in our lives, our families, our church and our nation. May it linger in your journey like the cloud and the pillar of fire surrounded the Israelites in the wilderness.