Mom had knee replacement surgery a week ago which went well, but then she had a post-operative heart attack which has also led to pneumonia. Now she is on a breathing machine to help her lungs heal, and the ICU staff is working to wean her from that machine and to breathe on her own. She is making progress, but it is slow and difficult.
Sitting with my mother in ICU and watching her trying to breathe has taught me a lot about why the Bible uses the same word for “breath” as for “spirit”. In both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek, these words are interchangeable because life cannot exist without spirit and breath.
“Breath” and “spirit” both remind us how essential this life-giving function really is. Without breath, we cannot live. Without spirit, we cannot live. The Creation story makes this point beautifully by picturing God tenderly breathing into the nostrils of the newly-formed clay and giving this Adam (whose name means “earth” or “dirt”) the gift of life. The story reminds us: no breath, no spirit, then no life. But with God’s Spirit which blows like the uncontrollable wind, there is breath and there is life.
I have always loved the old hymn, “Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” which contains these words:
Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.
My new favorite hymn is “Spirit of Gentleness” from “The Faith We Sing” which contains these words that are my prayer for my mother’s breathing, and for all of us:
(refrain): Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness,
stir me from placidness,
Wind, Wind on the sea.
1. You moved on the waters, you called to the deep,
then you coaxed up the mountains from the valleys of sleep,
and over the eons you called to each thing:
Awake from your slumbers and rise on your wings.
2. You swept through the desert,
you stung with the sand,
and you goaded your people with a law and a land,
and when they were blinded with their idols and lies,
then you spoke through your prophets to open their eyes.
3. You sang in a stable, you cried from a hill,
then you whispered in silence when the whole world was still,
and down in the city you called once again,
when you blew through your people on the rush of the wind.
4. You call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes,
from the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams,
our women see visions, our men clear their eyes,
with bold new decisions your people arise.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church