Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, 5/24/15
Twice in my life when I’ve been made distinctly aware my own breathing, and my complete dependence on it.
When I was around 8, we lived in Nashville, TN in a condo complex – similar to one of those in the May Chapel area. During the school year I made my way to the bus stop running down a fairly sloped hill to the lower side walk and heading to the corner. One morning in early spring, a bit chilly with dew covering the ground. And as I rushed down that slope, both my feet slide right out from under me. Up they went, and down I went – splat on my back. And I stared at the clouds in a beautiful blue sky and for what felt like the longest of seconds – because I could not take a breath.
A slow creeping fear filled my body and I thought – I can’t breathe – and almost simultaneously – gulp – inhale I indeed did. And then I burst into tears, it was terrifying. My mom later told me, oh you got the wind knocked out of you. That’s all.
That’s all? I thought. I felt like I had grown ages with wisdom through this experiential knowledge of not being able to breathe. Like inched closer, in some vague way, to what it must be like to die.
And then two years ago, I attended a conference in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The conference was in mid-May. The southwest in early summer – I was psyched. Packed all my shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. I probably should have looked at a map (I’m really bad with geography). and checked weather.com. For as I sat on the shuttle bus taking us from the airport to the conference center, winding our way – up and up – I looked at all the snow on the ground and the snow falling – I thought – oh yeah, Rocky mountains, high elevation, later learning 8k feet to be exact. And while it was much colder than I was prepared for – what was worse, much worse was that I couldn’t breathe. We were staying in the main conference part of the center – it’s a YMCA actually, Estes Park, Colorado if you know it – and the dining hall was in an adjacent building, probably about an eighth of a mile away up a slight incline.
The first time I walked up there, with a friend – I sat right down and put my head between my legs saying, I want my mom. Because that was the most succinct phrase I could utter that expressed how helpless I felt. This time the wind hadn’t been knocked out of me because I couldn’t catch my breath. And it made me feel sick and headachy and very out of sorts. For the remainder of the conference – it was a whole week – I was driven back and forth to that dining hall – which also made me feel – well, pathetic.
I never adjusted and I couldn’t wait to get on that mountain. But when I got home – I went running – and wow – felt like a superhero – like I had no idea how much oxygen the good state of Maryland has to share.
And not too long after that I visited a parishioner who is homebound and on oxygen 24/7 – and again I believed I had inched closer to a vague awareness, in some small way, of what that must be like.
Pentecost is about breath. The breath of God that fills a room filled with terrified disciples – infusing them with the Holy Spirit. The breath of God – that ignites a fire in their hearts so they can speak the good news of God in every language available. And the breath of God, described in an odd and prophetic vision from Ezekiel. The prophet is sent into a land that has been decimated and is filled with the bones of a defeated army and civilians. Ezekiel was one of the deported inhabitants of Jerusalem when Babylonians razed their city. And God tells him to go back, be present to the desolation and breathe.
I did some research on breathing this week and learned that on average we take about 12k breaths a day. And if we aren’t doing anything that exerts too much energy, our bodies need us to breathe about 4-6x/minute. Those 4-6 breaths per minute would enable us to 99% of our energy. But, most of us take about 16-20 breaths/minute and access only about 10-20% of the energy available to us. That’s more work for less. That’s energy we don’t use and we never get back.
When I discovered this – I said, well I’m gonna try it. So I got out my phone, tapped stopwatch and “start” – the moment I saw the ticking seconds, I panicked. 1,2,3 – and thought 4-6 breaths isn’t nearly enough for a whole minute. But, calming myself, I made it in 5. And then I tried it again. I sat up straight, put my feet on the ground – pressed “start” – and breathed deeply in and slowly out – and guess what – I did it in 3. And felt calm and relaxed – and prayerful. Let’s try that shall we?
Don’t you feel that change? Don’t you feel that awareness, more connected? You know how we say Yahweh, and you know how that comes from the Hebrew letters – YHWH – which is pronounced – Yod-Heh-Vah-Heh. Ancient Hebrew scholars said that was one reason why the name of Lord should not be pronounced – indeed was not pronounceable – is because the name of God is our very breath itself.
In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and the wind of God swept over it (Gen 1:1). God breathed creation into being.
And then God took the dust of the earth, formed it – breathed into it – creating us (1:30).
What is the first thing we need a baby to do when it is born? What is the last thing we do before we die?
You might say then, when we enter this world and leave this world, when we get the wind knocked out of us or we can’t catch our breath – it is the very name of God – Yod-Heh-Vah-Heh that is on our lips.
I think so many of us want to know the Holy Spirit in that way. The elusive peace, inner quiet and connection to God received through prayer and contemplation. And if we do, it is as simple as allowing the breath of God to fill our whole being.
Takes patience and intention though. And the busyness and stress of our lives is probably why we take 16 breaths a minute instead of 4! We breathe up high – we breathe shallow, not deep. And our minds race incessantly – so of course our hearts follow suit. When I took 3 breaths a minute – I had to choose to focus.
Before we got to the wild breath of Pentecost, Jesus went on and on instructing the disciples to abide in God. Abide in me as I abide in the Father. Abide in me and ask for whatever you wish. Abide in my words and my words abide in you. Abide in my love.
It certainly seems to me Jesus is saying we need to prepare for the Spirit of Truth – the Holy Spirit – the Advocate – the Paraclete – by first abiding in God. Could we practice abiding in God by simply recognizing the gift of life that each breath brings? Or is it only when we can’t catch our breath – when our wind gets knocked out of us – literally and metaphorically – that we are made aware of our gifts? Might we invite a deeper connection with the Holy Spirit by intentionally and daily connecting with the breath that God has breathed into us?
Breathe upon these bones, God tells Ezekiel. God’s spirit is the very thing that propels us – energizes us – God’s spirit is all about lifting us up.
So, as we invite the spirit of Pentecost into our lives, I wonder…do we have the patience to take 4-6 slow, deep breaths, a few times a day – allowing the gratitude of life to fill our hearts? Allowing the Holy Spirit to propel us to be present and breathe life into places of desolation the world would rather forget?
As we prayed in our psalm this morning –
God sends forth the spirit so that we are created. And God sends us that Holy Spirit so that we might renew the face of our earth. Amen.
The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks