The Lord God…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Spirit lives inside our breath, and so every breath can become a resurrection.
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD
Breath! How often do we even notice or pay attention to our breath? Our breath is steadfast, and has always been with us since our first breath was taken when we emerged from our mother’s womb. It will also be the last thing to go upon death, our last breath. Most likely, we only notice our breath when our breathing is not normal, as when we have a cold and our chest is tight and full, or when we have exerted ourselves so that our breath comes hard, fast, and maybe a bit uncomfortably. Without breath and breathing, we would not have life. Breath IS life. Life IS breath.
In one of the creation stories in Genesis, human beings only became living creatures when God breathed his own breath into them. Jesus conveyed the Holy Spirit into each of the disciples gathered in fear in the upper room by breathing his own breath into them. Thus, Christine Valters Paintner says that “Spirit lives inside our breath, and so every breath can become a resurrection.”
Physiologically, each breath is literally a resurrection. As we inhale, fresh life-giving oxygen is brought into our bodies through the lungs, transferred into our red blood cells, and then sent to every tiny cell of our body. The process is then reversed, taking the carbon dioxide from every cell through the blood stream and transferring it out through the lungs to the air as we exhale. With each breath, our bodies are continuously being recharged, restored, and rejuvenated. It is a truly miraculous process!
Many religious traditions throughout history have used breath practices as a means to help settle the mind, calm the body, and allow one’s inner space to open up to the Divine. Our breath is always with us, and thus provides an always available means of settling, of pausing, and of opening to the Spirit present in our innermost selves, and to the Spirit present all around us, any moment, day or night, wherever we may be.
Our breath flows like waves of the ocean, in and out, in and out, rising and falling, without us having to do anything to make it do so. It moves in a cyclic pattern of inhaling the air through our nose into the depths of our lungs, feeling our chest and belly rise, and then reversing as we exhale, from belly to chest to nose. It is a continuous cycle with an elliptical shape and slight, gentle pauses between inhale and exhale, and between exhale and inhale.
I like Christine Valters Paintner’s idea that these pauses in our breath are thresholds, silent, sacred liminal places/spaces between one doorway and another, one room and another, one experience and another. We become more aware of these sacred pauses in our meditation and prayer, and in the activities and moments of our daily lives, when we tune into our breath. This allows the natural pauses of the breath cycle to slow us down and stop for just an instant. Just by virtue of pausing where we are at any given moment, our minds rest, our bodies and emotions become calmer and more centered. The pause puts us in touch with the Spirit always present dwelling in our deepest being. The pause puts us in touch with Spirit all around us, connecting us to everyone and everything.
“Spirit lives inside our breath, and so every breath can become a resurrection.” So, just breathe! God is as close to us as our breath! Our breath is our prayer! Our breath is resurrection!