Wednesday, June 3, 2020

"I Can't Breathe!"

George Floyd portrait in a front yard on our street.

In thanksgiving for the life, artistry, and audacious activism of Larry Kramer, who saved countless lives, possibly my own.

An unrecorded Eighth Last Word of Jesus on the cross as his body sagged, cutting off his airflow, was “I can’t breathe!”

Doesn’t matter if this is true, because his spirit is surely in the last breath of any who suffer at the hands (or knee) of the powers that be. “I can’t breathe” has become the protest not only of individuals but of a movement intent on justice for all.

And now it also encompasses the respiratory suffering of millions at the hands of a virus and care-less leaders, even as caregivers give everything they have to relieve suffering and save lives.

Only in one difficult period of my life did I suffer a series of panic attacks in which I thought, “I can’t breathe.” But it gave me an inkling of what desperation that feeling entails. I can understand the resulting urges to violence and the sentiment expressed in the words of the 1975 Hollywood film prophet, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Or in the Holocaust rejoinder, “Never again!” And in the AIDS pandemic, “Silence=Death.”

In relation to the novel coronavirus pandemic, I’ve followed the science of the virus and the treatment of COVID-19 as well as the sometimes-harrowing personal experiences of those infected. When I pray about this, I can’t bring myself to pray for special protections for me and Wade and our families and friends. I pray for the whole human family: for deliverance, for a treatment, a cure, a vaccine.

On a recent routine visit, my Physician Assistant asked me where I was getting my information about it all and he was relieved to hear me say, “NPR, PBS and The New York Times.” Whether facing a pandemic or a presidential election, where we get our news matters.

Intriguing to me is how central breath is to managing and hopefully overcoming the havoc the virus wreaks in our bodies. Breath is central biblically and spiritually as well. Breath and Spirit represent life and soulfulness. God breathed life into the first human creature. Jesus breathed on his disciples Holy Spirit. The Spirit breathed resurrection into the early Christian movement, and then its subsequent reformations, including that of progressive Christianity.

And breath is helping me get through this period. Using the words Jesus used on a storm at sea, I breathe in thinking “Peace” and breathe out thinking “Be still,” inhaling the peace of God and exhaling the “demons” that wrack my well-being.

Last week I read a moving message from one of my Facebook friends, a black mother who was glad she had given her teenage son “the Talk” that so many of our black friends and colleagues have had to give their children about appearing non-threatening. He was pulled over for what turned out to be a minor infraction, so he had taken everything out of his pockets, put his driver’s license in one hand and his car registration in the other, and placed both hands on the steering wheel where the approaching officer could see them. The officer turned out to be friendly, but her son had been shaken by the encounter. I’m sure he had to catch his breath when it was all over, as did his mother upon hearing of the experience.

I wept to read this. With many others, I responded with a brief word of support and gratitude.

I believe Jesus wept too.

Also in our Georgia neighborhood. 

Recent posts that offer hope during our pandemic:

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 


  1. As always, Chris, I look forward to Wednesday mornings and your blog. This week has been a horror, to say the least. I live in Michigan, near Grand Rapids and what was intended to be a peaceful demonstration on Saturday nite, turned into a riot.....thankfully no one was killed, but there was much damage done to the buildings, etc. in the downtown area. At 7:00 AM Sunday,people began showing up with brooms, shovels and so on, to help clean up the mess....all this with no one coordinating it....people just went. Where is God in this country of ours? Amongst those good people who didn't need to be asked to help. We learned that the ones who started the rioting were paid.
    Having read the blog and now responding, I have a big lump in my stomach....I ache for the blacks who live in constant fear of white authority....of being accused and abused at every turn.
    I believe just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he is also weeping over the US. My prayer is that he will be able to stop weeping in time.

    Instead of singing "God bless America", we should be singing/praying, "God heal America"

    Many years ago, a black friend who was dealing with lots of issues asked me, "Why did God make me black?" Wow, how do you answer that? I remember saying to her, "Caroline, I don't know why God made you black and me white, but I feel convinced that God Loves you as a black woman and me as a white woman". I haven't thought of that in years, but it really does cause one to pause and reflect, doesn't it?

    I appreciate you so, Chris...continue being true to who you are meant to be.


    1. Thanks, Mary. Thanks for taking the time to offer a thoughtful comment. I like the idea of singing and praying "God heal America." Just when I feel we're making progress as a nation things seem to fall apart, demonstrating we need our Higher Power and our higher powers. Let's pray also for better leadership in all the races of the upcoming election.