These days, many of us lie awake at night, listening. The nocturnal wilderness between consciousness and slumber is the roving ground for primitive fears, longings and needs long sublimated in the frenzy of the day. In the elemental darkness, we are alone with ourselves; we lie still, and breathe.
It isn’t often thought of this way, but being alive is as perilously simple as a tarzan-swing from one gnarly vine to another. As we exhale one breath, we must draw another. Stop breathing and you die – it’s just that fundamental. Even in the deeps of dreamland, the involuntary processes of heart and lungs fire on without our volition. We have a tendency to think of life in terms of talents, dreams and ambitions for the future decades in advance, but the truth is, simply making it through the day is miraculous. Alternately, if you’ve ever heard the final death-rattle of the dying, it’s a moment you will never forget. Lest we get too full of ourselves, the space between here and eternity is a thin stream of air.
This incredible kiss of life we’ve received is intimately described in Genesis 2:7.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Job, moaning on his ash-heap, also revisits the primitive equation of life.
The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:7
One of the most terrifying aspects of the current COVID-19 spectre is how the virus affects the lungs and interferes with the whole apparatus of respiration. Something about that is deeply primordial, a fear up there with drowning or being smothered. Breath in our bodies is more, much more, than simple bodily aspiration. We also form words through this ejected flow, shaping them with vocal chords, lips and teeth, tongue, hard and soft palates; an intensely complicated process.
The breath of life within us creates atmospheres of life around us. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), a power we are not utilizing as we should. We will give account for “every idle word” we’ve uttered (Matthew 12:36). In a very real spiritual sense, the breath we draw is one of our deepest connections to the divine life of God. In Hebrew, the very name of the Holy Spirit is ‘ruach’ which literally means breath, wind or spirit--interchangeable concepts.
Remember the story of Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37)? The Lord positions Ezekiel to prophecy over what looks to be a totally hopeless situation. Israel is lost, exiled from their homeland; their hope in the future and God’s promises utterly desiccated. The prophet is commanded to prophesy over the vision he receives, speaking into the future regarding his nation’s desolation. As he obeys, the Spirit of the Lord, activated by his faith and words, begins to regenerate the skeletons. What imagery! It’s a powerful, timeless example of privilege and authority we’ve been given to impact our circumstances and effect change.
Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. Ezekiel 37:9-10
As we close in on a full year of pandemic, quarantine, social distancing and other insanely bizarre circumstances, it may be a good moment to consider where our breath has been. What words have come from us? Are we ranting against the powers that be? Venting in frustration at governmental restrictions? Are we mired in murmuring, complaining or vexation? Have our words gone forth in encouragement, meaningful communication, prayer, praise or prophetic? Have we sung the “songs of Zion” into the darkness, or hung our harps on the weeping willows? What spirit do we carry?
Words matter. Attitude matters. Speaking God’s Word over impossible situations subdues them. The breath of the Almighty moves through you and I; God, help us to take that seriously. Like Ezekiel, we combat the valley of the shadow of death with unusual tools, sending the breath of God to redeem both future and past. This is the air we breathe, and it’s precious.
While I live, I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath departs, he returns to the earth. Psalm 146:2-4
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