What is the first gift you were given? Our Hebrew and Christian traditions remembers a gift we receive even before our memories begin: breath.
We celebrate that gift whenever we lean over a cake on our birthday And whoosh- blow out the candles on it.
But it is also a very ancient gift.
In Genesis God scoops up dust and breathes into it, giving life to the human earth-creature.
In our first reading today It happens again.
Ezekiel sees a vision of a valley of dry bones, and so the prophet calls: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
Ezekiel continues: I prophesied as God commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Not just a single person or a couple, But a whole nation resurrected by a single breath.
In our gospel reading today The power of Christ’s love for his friend Lazarus Reaches out through Christ’s tears Through the stone door of the tomb And literally breathes new life into Lazarus’ already decomposing body.
Those breathings are all miracles of the olden days.
Do they still happen among us?
Today when a newborn takes its first breath we are struck by the wonder and fragility of our bodies and the gift-nature of breath.
And when someone takes their last breath As Mary Martin did earlier this week We try to imagine in vain what happens next.
Her breath is gone- Reminding us That one day we too will breathe our last.
But from our first breath to our last, And every one in between Is a powerful gift From a loving God.
We would do well to pay attention to it.
Ironically, it is easy to forget this gift because it comes to us -- literally of course -- with every breath.
We receive it about 23,000 times each day, but teachers of meditation still need to tell us, “focus on your breath.”
In stressful situations a supportive colleague may remind us, “don’t forget to breathe!”
In scripture, the word for breath is complex. In Hebrew, ruach, and in Greek, pneuma, the word can mean breath, wind, and spirit, and it usually implies a connection between the three.
The word invites us into a mysticism that holds together the personal, the ecological, and the divine.
How are we stewards of this gift?
We are stewards of it By becoming more conscious of how precious that breath of life is.
We have touched that consciousness this week with Mary’s passing.
We need to bring that realization into every single moment of our lives.
One way to do so, Is by noticing and becoming conscious of, thinking about our own breathing.
As a means of entering into prayer, the rhythm of our breathing can be a useful tool. This is so for several reasons.
On a practical level, since we’re always breathing, it is a constant presence in our lives.
This fact calls to mind, secondly, the connection between breathing and God, since God is the giver of all life.
Finally, because we “breathe in the good air and breathe out the bad,” the rejuvenating process of breathing calls to mind a deeper, spiritual cleansing that comes through prayer (moving from willfulness to willingness).
WE’re going to do that right now As we continue to welcome the quiet of Lent And take some time to focus, calm and center ourselves Preparing for Holy Week.
We will sit in a comfortable position. Keeping our backs as straight as we are able to prevent our mind from becoming sluggish or sleepy.
The first stage of breath recognition is to stop distractions and make our mind clearer and more lucid.
We’ll sit with our eyes partially closed And simply turn our attention to our breathing.
We breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control our breath,
We will try to become aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
This sensation is our object of meditation. We should try to concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else.
At first, our mind will be very busy, and we might even feel that the meditation is making our mind busier; but in reality we are just becoming more aware of how busy our mind actually is.
There will be a great temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, but we can resist this and remain focused single-pointedly on the sensation of the breath.
When we discover that our mind has wandered and is following our thoughts, we should immediately return it to the breath. We should repeat this as many times as necessary until the mind settles on the breath.
I usually takes a few minutes to do so.
So- Lets try it now.
Let’s settle in- Back straight Eyes closed or partially closed.
Now I’ll lead us in the first three breaths- Then you are on your own for a few quiet minutes And I will close our time with a prayer.
One- Breath in. Breath out
Two Breath in. Breath out.
Three. Breath in. Breath out.
Breathe in the breath of God Breathe out your cares and concerns
Breathe in the love of God. Breathe out your doubts and despairs.
Breathe in the grace of God. Breathe out your fears and frustrations.
Breathe in the breath of God. Breathe out your tensions and turmoil.
Breathe in the love of God. Breathe out your haste and hurry.
Breathe in the grace of God. Breathe out your waste and worry.
Sit quietly before the Heavenly Parent who gives life and love to all creation.
Sit in adoration before the Son who redeems us from all our sins.
Sit in peace filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit who renews every fiber of our being.
Sit in awe before the Glory of the One God: Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit.