“I can’t breathe” (in which I reflect on many things, including death, murder, Pentecost, and the breath of God)

On December 6th, 2019, my mother breathed her final breath.

After four years of living with Stage Four breast cancer, her body betrayed her over the course of four weeks.

During the final four days, her organs shut down one by one. In the last four hours, family arrived to gather around her bedside. In the last four minutes, her lungs methodically continued their appointed task of breathing in-out, in-out, in-out, in-out. In the last four seconds, she breathed in-out a final time, and most assuredly her eternal spirit was wrapped up in the arms of her Lord and joyfully carried into her new home.

Though my mother did not necessarily breathe her last breath on her own terms, she did indeed breathe her last breath of her own volition, surrounded by loved ones, in a safe place, without any outside external constraint – which is how everyone’s final breath most certainly and surely ought to be breathed.

Breath is a grace, freely given by an All Powerful and Loving Creator who in the beginning breathed his own breath into mere dust of the ground, and behold – humanity came alive, made in the image of God to fellowship with him, to work alongside him, to worship and adore him, to be his representative in the earthly realm.

In the beginning, humanity (undeservedly and miraculously) breathed the Spirit of Yahweh, in-out, in-out, in-out, in-out, just as the Lord himself designed.

Until they didn’t.

Much too soon, the created rejected the Creator, vomited up the Spirit, spewed out the Breath, and proudly declared they would breathe only their own spirit, would determine their own fellowship, would work for their own ends, would worship their own desires, and would represent their own image. They said, “We won’t breathe You.” And the Creator’s intended image was shattered.

“We won’t breathe” (spoken to God) sowed seeds of “you won’t breathe” (spoken to a brother, then countless others) which led to “I can’t breathe” (gasped by a brother, then countless others) that have infiltrated and infected every corner of God’s good creation. What started as a single bite of blame and shame (“But it…”, “But he…,” But she..”) quickly seeped into the soil and the souls, growing into poisoned jealousy, jealous hatred, and hate-filled murder.

Humanity’s path was remapped by humanity itself – from loving light and life into defiled darkness and death.

Until it wasn’t.

Much sooner than we deserved, the incarnated True God-Man arrived, born into earth’s air, breathing with human lungs, revealing with shocking clarity the true Image of God. He lived, he loved, he healed, he taught, he preached.

Until he didn’t.

Until he breathed his last breath.

… for all of creation (which against its will was subjected to sin’s curse).

… for all of humanity (which by its own volition is subject to sin’s utter destruction).

Christ breathed his last – so we could be forgiven. (Oh Lord, we need your forgiveness.) [Romans 4:25]

Christ breathed again – so we could be made right with God. (Oh Lord, we need to be reconciled to you.) [Romans 4:25]

Christ breathed his Spirit on his few frightened followers – so they could be comforted and at peace. (Oh Lord, we need your comfort. Oh Lord, we need your peace.) [John 20:19-20]

Christ poured out his Spirit on his many gathered people – so they could be re-created into the image of God, as he had planned from the beginning. (Oh Lord, we need to be recreated into people who both breathe your Spirit and love others … all others.) [Acts 2]

It is Pentecost Sunday. Today we remember and celebrate God’s Spirit-Breath in a world where people too often breathe their last breath from disease, from hatred, from suffering, from murder – all because humanity still vomits up and spews out the Breath of Life.

Oh Lord: heal us.

Oh Lord: forgive us.

Oh Lord: comfort us.

Oh Lord: correct us.

Oh Lord: guide us.

Oh Lord: gather us.

Oh Lord: we need your Breath to fill our souls, to soften our hearts, to shape our thoughts, to heal our relationships, to reconcile your children one to another.

Oh Lord. Oh Lord ….

Life after camp (in which I consider the folly of huddling behind closed doors)

Behind closed doors (Photo: CKirgiss)
Behind closed doors (Photo: CKirgiss)

We are all home now, 50ish or so folk who lived at camp for a month doing this and that, serving (as genuinely as we could) with humility, living (as graciously as we could) in community, laughing (as deeply as we could) for joy, loving (as best we could) as Jesus loved.

It’s not hard to do these things at camp, alongside 50ish or so other folk who are doing the same thing, when the schedule is built around such things and the activities are geared to such things and the atmosphere spills over with such things.

But home – well, home is another matter entirely. Home is here (not there). Home is mundane (not magnificent). Home is dull (not wondrous). Home is . . .  not camp. As such, “home” carries with it a whole host of assumptions that, if allowed, might drag us down. Needlessly. Tragically.

How will we ever survive without our 50ish or so fellow workers and friends? How will we ever stay true without daily times of communal prayer, study, and worship? How will we ever thrive without constant encouragement and challenge? How, indeed?

I suspect that after camp, or any similar ministry-minded experience, many people do as the disciples did on the evening of the third day: they huddle behind locked doors because they are afraid of all that lurks outside. Whatever will we do? However will we cope?

This is how:

We will raise our eyes up from the dusty ground where they gaze in worry and fear and instead focus them on Jesus who stands right here among us, behind the locked doors of life.

We will stop listening to voices of worry and fear that bombard our ears and hearts and instead listen to the words of Jesus who speaks peace and comfort and truth.

We will recognize the worry and fear for what it really is – an excuse to hide behind locked doors rather than live a life of daring faith – and will instead follow Jesus who is here with us now and who stays with us always and who goes with us to wherever he sends us.

It is easy to huddle behind a locked door. In truth, much of our huddling behind locked doors is not really about hiding from the world. Rather, it is about hiding from Jesus and from the life to which he has called us. If we huddle here, where no one can see or challenge or exhort us, then we are free to do whatever we want, or nothing at all . . . which means, of course, that we are nothing more than captive to ourselves.

To all who are tempted to hide away, to huddle, to fret, to worry, and to lament the end of a powerfully beautiful ministry community experience, remember this – Jesus quietly but surely explodes into that huddling space, wherever it may be, and both speaks peace into our lives and breathes the Holy Spirit into our souls.

He did. He does. He will.

That Sunday evening, the disciples were hiding behind locked doors because they were afraid…suddenly Jesus was standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Again he said, “Peace be with you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (from John 20)



Easter Day-After

Photo: CKirgiss
Photo: CKirgiss (The Breath of God)

Compared to other holiday day-afters, Easter day-after is an odd post-holiday day, with vague purposes and undefined parameters.

On Halloween day-after, we pillage all the (childrens’) candy bags in search of chocolate-covered and peanut-butter-filled goodness.

On Thanksgiving day-after, we eat leftovers (because apparently we are still hungry) and prepare for a long and holy day of football.

On Christmas day-after, we make pilgrimage to the reliquary Returns and Exchanges Department. And then wage battle on Some-Assembly-Required blessings. And conclude with the fray known as Detangling All The Power Adapters.

On New Year’s day-after we enjoy a quiet cup of coffee (for various reasons) in the stillness of our homely houses wherein we slept a solid 7 or 8 hours in perfect peace and stillness (or not)  and wonder what all the fuss next door is about.

But on Easter day-after, we awake to a new week because always, always, always this day-after is a Monday which seems a serious mis-calculation. There are no candy bags (the seasonal trimming known as The Easter Basket is, for a pillager, not worth the effort.). There is no NFL (and possibly no March Madness because of Easter’s calendar fluidity). There is no commercialism mania (which is as it should be). And for a very few pathetic folk, there is no coffee.

Instead, a new week has begun. Monday morning in all its ridiculous glory has arrived. Again. Here we go. Oh joy.

But this is the day after the day that gives all days meaning. The day after the day that defines all other days. The day after the day that life truly begins. Surely it should be a day-after to define all other day-afters.

And so it is. For this is not only the day after the morning that Christ arose. It is also the day after the night that Christ breathed on his disciples, a little detail that gets very little attention or coverage.

That long-ago Sunday evening, the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because – as was so often true of them, and is so often true of us – they were afraid.

Suddenly Jesus – crucified just days before – was standing there among them. A dead-but-now-living man. A walking, talking, speaking dead-but-now-living man. A real live, present, visible, actual dead-but-now-living man.

And to those frightened, weak, shocked, terrified, bunkered-down men, He said this: Be at peace. (Much like He did when they were in a boat, on a lake, in a storm, sure beyond sure that they were going to drown. Wrong. Relax, boys. Be at peace.)

And they went from being afraid to being filled with joy when they saw Him – the Lord. Or more likely they went from being just afraid to being afraid and joyful. (This is an important detail. Too often we overlook joy when we are troubled because we assume they cannot co-exist. And too often we overlook our own and others’ trouble when we are joyful and so fail to experience life in all its fullness.)

And then – most amazing of all the amazing things that happened on the day after the day Jesus rose – he breathed on them the Holy Spirit.

God’s fullness is surely heard in the thunder, felt in the wind, and seen in the fire. But it is sometimes most evident in the gentle whisper of air that Jesus breathes on us the moment we first set eyes on His living presence and hear Him say: Be at peace. It is I. I am here. And I am Lord.

The resurrection changes everything for us. Absolutely. But even more so does the day-after breath.

Because of the first, we know He is alive. Because of the second, we know He is here. Breathing onto us. Breathing into us. Breathed onto us. Breathed into us.

Today marks the day we are filled with His breath because he began breathing again after he had breathed His last for lost and sorry sinners into whom He long ago breathed the very breath of life.

Easter day-after (even though a Monday) is a day to live. A day to shout. A day to sing. A day to dance. A day to breathe the Holy Spirit into our souls so deeply and fully that He spills onto the world around us where He is oh so desperately needed.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!


He is here! He is here, indeed!

[All content copyright Crystal Kirgiss]