Easter and the Breath of Life

Friday is about the embrace of Christ as he wraps our sinful selves – each and every one of us muddy beyond measure – in his infinitely loving arms, taking our sins upon himself while hanging on the shockingly sacred cross.

Saturday is about waiting with bated breath for the time to pass and for the Christ to breathe again. Knowing how the story ends does not lessen its glorious unfolding, and so Saturday is marked by holy suspense and wonderment.

Sunday is about life, hope, joy, disbelief, deep belief, new clothes, and a feast to end all feasts.

(Luke 15)
When that stinky, filthy, sorry and soiled son – just returned from a life of utter independence, and also utter pig stench – was embraced by his gracious, forgiving, gentle, and loving father, the story was not ended.

Not even close.

That son needed cleaning up (done by the father) and new clothes (provided by the father) and a joyous welcome home party that blew the roof right up off the house in a burst of wild celebration (hosted by the father).

The older son – who had never left home outwardly but had surely left it inwardly – wasn’t at the party, not because he missed it or wasn’t told. He skipped it. Entirely. Totally. Even after being warmly welcomed and invited. The older son didn’t want hugging. He didn’t want cleaning up. He didn’t want reclothing. He didn’t want rejoicing. He didn’t want a party – not that party, at least. And what we don’t want is not forced upon us. Ever.

The lost son was found, and the family partied like there was no tomorrow (even though there were endless tomorrows.)

(John 20)
When Jesus hung on that cross – dripping with the stink and stench and filth of the world’s sins – and held all of humanity in his embrace while breathing his last, the story was not ended.

Not even close.

Less than 48 hours after he’d been nailed to the cross, and maybe just 36 hours after he died – really and truly and totally died – Jesus’ tomb was empty. Really and truly and totally.

This is rather a big deal. A stupendously, shockingly, and stunningly big deal, in fact.

Resurrection doesn’t just happen every day (though a little part of me is brought to life each day after it has first died out really, truly, and totally).

And of course, no matter how much he’d told them it would happen, his best friends weren’t expecting their really, truly, and totally dead leader to ever be anything other than really, truly, and totally dead.

They didn’t know the end of the story yet. Their suspense and fear were real. Truly and totally.

So you can imagine their surprise when just 50 or so hours after watching him take his last breath, they saw Jesus right there with them – where they huddled behind locked doors for fear of what might happen to guys who were friends with the man who had turned the world upside down really and truly and totally.


Also understandable: their fear of what might happen to them was nothing compared to the shock of what did happen to them. Seeing a dead guy, that is. Who was really, truly, and totally no longer dead. He spoke. He embraced. He laughed. He comforted. He breathed in and out, in and out, in and out, no more breathing his last, now re-embodied in flesh and blood – flesh no longer just human and blood no longer merely shed.

And then the unthinkable: the risen Christ, breathing in and out, in and out, in and out – really and truly and fully alive – breathed in and out right onto his friends, much like God breathed into the first of humanity, eons and ages and lifetimes ago.

“Don’t fear,” he said. “It’s me,” he said. “I’m here,” he said. “Be at peace,” he said.

Then he breathed on them and said, “Be. Be born. Be new. Be mine. Be filled with the Spirit of holiness and life.”

So you see, there is no doubt that we all – each and every one of us – takes God’s breath away – not by force, but by the depth of his own holy love: first on the cross, where he breathed his last; then at the party (for that’s what happened behind those locked doors on Sunday night – a party indeed), where he breathed their first. Our first.

The Lord is risen. The tomb is empty. We have been cleansed. Our spirits are full.

We know how the story ends. Let’s now live into its glorious unfolding – really, truly, and fully.

The Cross of Christ, the Savior’s embrace, breathtaking love

(June 1989)
When the child was still not three, the only outdoor rule was this:

You may not go outdoors by yourself. Ever.

It could not have been simpler, clearer, or more reasonable. Stay in with mom or go out with mom. Those were the options.

On that particular Wednesday night when the dinner hour arrived – for which I had miraculously cleaned up, not a small thing in the days of small children –  I could not find the child. Anywhere. Which was not entirely new or unexpected. He had no great love for being found.

I methodically checked inside closets, under beds, down basement stairs, and behind the shower curtain. I rechecked inside closets, under beds, down basement stairs, and behind the shower curtain.

The child not-yet-three was in none of those places because he was here instead:

Child swims in mud.
Child swims in mud.

Front-crawling through the mud puddles he was, because there is nothing better than swimming if you are not quite three.

He’d gone outside. Without me. Which was against the rules. And then he swam in a mud puddle because it was there, calling his name, and I had never said:

You may not swim in the driveway mud puddles. Ever.

Dinner was late. I was clean. The child was dirty up and down and all around. And the child had done wrong – much or little didn’t matter. He was a muddy mess indeed. I could have said:

Do you know what happens to little boys who sneak outside to swim in mud puddles? They turn into mud pies and spend their whole lives living in muddy muck, eating dirt and slime, crying because they are locked out of the house forever and ever and ever. That’s what.

I considered it. I really did. After all, I was clean. That doesn’t happen every day when the kids are not-yet-one and not-yet-three.

But it was chilly out. And people were getting hungry. And there are no beds or books or blankets out in the mud. And he was a child, – my child.

The only option: to go out myself, walk through puddle after puddle until arriving at his puddle, bend down to eye level, and say:

Here I am. I’ll help.

He was not interested in being helped.

Child swam in mud.
Child swam in mud.

I wrapped my arms around him anyway – because sometimes mothers must; cringed as the muddy slime smeared all over the clean me – because where else could it go; felt that precious not-yet-three boy against my body – because that’s right where it belonged; and caught my breath – because, gracious sakes alive, mother love will take one’s breath away, no matter how much muddy slime drips around the edges.

(Luke 15)
When the boy was not quite a man, there were rules aplenty, but more importantly there was this:

Home, security, family, love.

Which was more than enough. More than more than enough.

But not enough for the boy. Not nearly enough. What he wanted was a dead dad. Because that meant money. And money meant power and freedom and life. Everyone knows that.

But the power, freedom, and life drained out dry, leaving behind nothing but the slimy filthy stink of hopeless disgrace and shame-filled self that dragged on and on and on until even the disgrace and shame was sucked dry, a lifeless shadow of its lifeless self.

When the son came back, dirty up and down and all around, stenched through and through, having done wrong beyond measure, the father could have said:

You? Here? You?? Here?? YOU ARE DEAD TO ME!

But he never considered it. Not even once. Not even though he had every right to. This was not a child in a puddle. This was a soul in a tempest.

So: filled with love and compassion, he embraced the boy; and when that filthy stench of death and shame smeared all over his own unsullied self, he did not cringe, draw back, cover his eyes, or hold his breath to keep out the stench.

Rembrandt: the father embraces the son.
Rembrandt: the father embraces the son.

But indeed, he did catch his breath – because gracious sakes alive, a holy love will take the Savior’s breath away, no matter how much sin drips around the edges.

And drip it did. Drip and smear and suffocate, all over the Savior while he hung there on that gloriously death-drenched cross, holding us in his breathtaking embrace, hugging us from death to life.

Eugene Delacroix (c. 1845)
Eugene Delacroix (c. 1845)

(I Peter 2)
He personally carried our sins – dripped and smeared all over his holy soul – in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. And having carried them there, and nailing them there, and hanging them there on himself, he said IT IS FINISHED,

And then he breathed his last.

Because we really do take God’s breath away – that day, this day, every day.

Magnetic poetry

Every now and then, I refashion the refrigerator door.

This is something that I imagine organized, intentional, and purposeful people do on a regular basis.

In my case, the motivation has more to do with either 1) avoiding some other necessary and unpleasant task or 2) being bored with (or similarly overwhelmed by) the current refrigerator fashion.

The side of the refrigerator rarely gets such personal attention. With its sidelong stance and hoarding tendencies, it lives a prodigal life of its own making. (Which is to say, I have neither the will nor the stamina to tackle 8 years worth of haphazardly displayed this-and-that.)

The fridge front is currently in a Magnetic Poetry season, a season that usually lasts anywhere from 6-9 months (because it’s so intellectually fulfilling with all of its semantic possibilities) and then gets packed away for 2-3 years (because it’s so pragmatically and emotionally taxing with all of its potential organizational disasters…like when the standby adverbs and adjectives start mixing it up so that I can’t even think straight for all of their renegade whimsey).

Words are just about the best thing ever, which makes sense since God used them (in some perfected and sacred form, I presume) to speak the universe into existence.

With all their inherent power, then, the best writers know how to transform them from individual units of nothingness (dry as dust until someone breathes life into them) into startling and exquisite bolts of energy that can be surprisingly life-giving even as they knock us to our knees in breathless amazement.


“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

[No digressive Tolkien tangent to follow. Simply this: go here and listen to Tolkien read about Gollum. And this: read The Hobbit if you haven’t. Please. I beg you. Before you see the movie, which is, remember, an adaptation of the book.]

“Oozy smell.” Perfect. Wonderful. Miraculous. Nine letters. Two words. Infinite possibilities.

I recently hosted a play-date with my five-year-old neighbor friend. The plan was to do typical five-year-old-play-date kinds of things – books, snacks, stickers, crafts – but instead, she spent two hours at the refrigerator, choreographing a linguistic dance of sorts with what she dramatically referred to as “all these words that have vowels and competents in them!” Two hours of enthusiastic magnetic lexical ballet thoroughly dismantled the (neurotic) demarcation lines between nouns, adverbs, and adjectives (a good excuse to refashion the refrigerator door in the coming weeks), but it left unscathed the topmost semantic creations from the recent months:

Wild angel worship pierces my night with a vision of sweet eternity.

Translucent and smooth poetry whispers to me and surrounds my broken heart like ferocious love.

Deliciously sacred words dance through the universe and celebrate deep in my blood like fresh morning stars.

And that just about says everything a person could ever hope to say (on a refrigerator door, anyway).

Keep breathing

For the past several years, I’ve been fascinated with (and severely sidetracked by) the idea of breathing. Not just breathing, really. Breath. Life. Spirit. Breathing. God. New life. That kind of thing.

When something captures my attention, it’s pointless for me to try and redirect. I find it best to just hang on tightly and see where the ride takes me.

This ride has been quite something. Quite something, indeed. And I suspect that it’s nowhere close to being over.

The thing about breathing is that it’s so, well, normal. Everyday. Ordinary. Unspectacular. Mundane, even. Which is right up my alley.

I’ve always been enamored with The Mundane. As far as I’m concerned, the seemingly mundane things of life are where it’s at. Things like junk drawers, frozen brown bananas, old Reader’s Digest Condensed books (just the covers, actually), and public library book sales are as interesting and profound as the things many intellectuals hold up as revered sources of Signification and Ontology and Elevated Discursive Topics (That Very Few People Care About Or Understand). Measured in terms of its excitement value or its rarity, what could be more mundane than breathing?

[Jesus, by the way, is the main where-it’s-at thing in my life, but I certainly do not categorize Him as mundane. I do, however, find it interesting that He spent so much time talking about and paying attention to things and people and ideas that in His day were likely viewed by the masses as mundane.]

The big things in life wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the small things…the mundane things…the unflashy things. In that respect, then, there is nothing small, mundane, or unflashy about them. And so it is with breathing.

In. Out. In. Out. Minute after minute. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year. For a lifetime.

It’s a bit boring…or breathtaking…depending on one’s view of the mundane.

I believe breathing is a very Jesus-y thing.

God created humanity and breathed the breath of life into them. They are made. They are alive. They are loved by God more than anything else in creation, to such a dizzying degree that King David muses: “When I consider the night sky, the glorious works of Your hand, the stars and planets and universe at large, I have to ask you, God…who am I that You would pay any attention at all to me, would care for me, would even notice me?!?!” But He does. If I read the Bible rightly all the way from Genesis to the Psalms to the Gospels to the Epistles, I can only conclude that humanity takes God’s breath away, so deep is His love for us.

Then humanity – in very human fashion – proceeds to unmake itself by saying to God (much like the younger son of Luke 15): “Thank you very much (or not), but I’d like my share of the estate. Now. All of it. Mine. So long. Outta here.” Humanity, spiritually speaking, is dead. Unbreathing.

But rather than abandoning humanity – which is what it has asked for and earned and deserves – God says: “Don’t panic. I’ve got this. I’m on my way. I’m here,” (my paraphrase), shows up on earth as a human Himself and willingly goes to the cross where His love for us literally took His breath away when He breathed His last and finished the task only He could do.

Well…that’s just the start of this whole breathing thing. More (of the mundane) to follow.