Wildflowers along our morning walk.
Very early Sunday morning, I felt Wade’s breath on my bare shoulder. That simple touch begat my morning meditation. The sensation reminded me that he was there, but also, that I was there.
And I began to think of the Gospel of John’s version of Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said, after appearing to his disciples despite their doors locked against the authorities, religious and political. After showing his wounds to make clear he was not a ghost, Jesus simply breathed on the disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” With this breath they (and we) are sent into the world.
Less dramatic and sparser sermonic fodder than the Acts’ story of Pentecost, but this is probably how most of us encounter the Holy Spirit, that Spirit of God embodied in Jesus and passed on to those who attempt to live God’s will for justice, mercy, and compassion. A breath that reminds us God is with us, even within us, and reassures us that we are here.
It’s the breath of creation and evolution, of meditation and inspiration, of sensuality and spirituality. In troubled and busy times, it’s the breath we catch to find peace.
John’s Gospel is thought to be the most mystical of the four in our Bible, but it is arguably also the most physical and sensual, after all, it begins with God’s Word becoming flesh. In it, Jesus is referred to as the bread from heaven, living water to quench all thirst, the vine that sustains us branches, the source of our second birth, a good shepherd who calls us by name. He elevates physical well-being above religious rules by healing on the sabbath, disassociates disability from sin in healing one born blind, and offers us abundant life. He appreciates familial intimacy with Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and is crushed by the latter’s death, prompting him to call him back to life. He cradles an especially beloved disciple at the last supper and washes his disciples’ feet, and appears first to a grief-stricken (lovesick?) Mary when resurrected.
That his breath outpours the Holy Spirit fits the sensuality of this Gospel and, of course, parallels the breath Yahweh breathed into the chest of the first human creature. Biblically, breath and spirit are used interchangeably, as the same word may be used for either.
All of this did not come in my Sunday morning meditation, of course, but something I did ponder is the role of Jesus in my life. I’ve been re-reading Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out about prayer and the spiritual life and noticed his reference to the ancient and traditional “Jesus prayer,” which he renders, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me,” leaving out the end, “a sinner.” I guess that’s how I came also to leave out that self-disparaging ending, because this particular book came from his notes for my first course with Henri at Yale Divinity School. I always associated the prayer with those in the Bible in need of healing who cry for mercy, a broader application of the principle.
In this way, I’ve been occasionally praying this prayer, in that, as I age, I am feeling more vulnerable, more fragile. And though it’s comforting to address it to Jesus, my theology prompts me more often to pray, “Lord God, have mercy on me.” During my morning meditation this past Sunday I concluded that it doesn’t really matter to whom I address the prayer, as Jesus best represents God to me and I doubt that neither really care!
As I enjoyed Wade’s breath on my shoulder, I thought how comforting to think of Jesus’ or God’s breath on me.
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