Looking back to the start of the year, life probably seemed a lot simpler. Although each year typically has a few defining events, 2020 has already contained so many world-changing and paradigm shifting moments that it all seems hard to believe and, at times, maybe hard to breathe.
Even in all the unknown, we know that as Christians we are called to live in hope. In this moment in history hope or tūmanako seems even more necessary. Pope Francis said last year that, “it is not easy to live in hope, but I would say that it should be the air that a Christian breathes, the air of hope.”
Our sign of life
To breathe or to take a breath is the clearest sign of life. It is a matter of life or death. In the fight against Covid-19, we are acutely aware of the importance of being able to breathe. Consider how important breathing becomes when there is desperate need for ventilators and respirators.
You might consider too the cries of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe” and the racial crisis that has once again been exposed in response.
We know, by faith, that God’s breath is the origin of life (Genesis 2). To breathe is a gift from God; it is an experience of the life of God within us. This is a gift given regardless of class, status, or race. The ability to breathe is connected to freedom and dignity. Whether literally or metaphorically, to deny a person the right to breathe in freedom and with dignity, is to deny a person life.
Jesus knew what it meant to be denied this life when he found himself on the cross struggling to breathe. But as soon as he was raised to life, one of the first things he did was breathe on the disciples saying, “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).
Remembering to breathe
We can probably all recall a time in our lives when we felt like we were unable to breathe. Even if our breath has not been physically threatened over the past few months, we may still have had to remind ourselves to breathe.
Scrolling through the news, breathe.
Surviving shifts as an essential worker, breathe.
Kids cooped up at home during lockdown, breathe.
A recent job loss or the fear of losing one, breathe.
Trying to get a family member home to New Zealand, breathe.
Wondering when we will be able to gather back at Mass, breathe.
A much-anticipated overseas holiday cancelled, breathe.
Worrying about what will come next, breathe.
Scared that community transmission might start again, breathe.
Working hard to keep your business afloat, breathe.
Take a deep breath
In times stress we tend to revert to shallow breathing, so we need to not only remember to breathe, but to breathe deeply. This is a life skill we have forgotten. We need to pay attention to our breath as it can help us navigate challenging times.
As we breathe deeply, we are invited to remember how God has breathed life into us, into humankind since the beginning of our history. We are invited to recognise that each breath we take is a gift from God and that God’s Spirit is near to us, nearer even than our own breath.
A form of prayer
One way to become more conscious of your own breathing and to seek hope through this gift is a practice of prayer dating back to the 6th Century.
Breath Prayer involves a repeated phrase being prayed to the rhythm of your breathing. You use the first part of the phrase as you breath in, the second part as you exhale. Different phrases can be used in various situations. This prayer helps remind us of our dependence on God, who gives and sustains our life. You may like to pray; Loving God, be my hope.
You can find out more about how to pray in this way here.
You may also like to listen to this song, making the words your prayer and reflecting on the way that God breathes life into you.