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Focus text: John 20:19-31 (Jesus appears in the locked room)

                As I gaze out across the group gathered here this evening I can only imagine what you all are thinking about at this moment.  It may be something about the readings, it may be about something you forgot to do today or it may be a concern about tomorrow.  If you are a visitor, you may be thinking about what you got yourself into!  I bet, however, nobody is sitting there thinking about their breathing. But tonight I need you to think about your breathing for a few moments.  So let’s take 2or 3 deep breaths and focus on how it feels.  That’s it.  Well done!

                Tonight we find the disciples fearful and in a locked room. Jesus comes to them and gives them the Spirit by breathing on them.  By doing so Jesus adds more pavement to a highway of revelation on the breath of God going back to creation.  Tonight we explore the tradition of God’s breath to see if this highway intersects in any way with our own story.  Perhaps in doing so we can rediscover the role our own breath plays in our awareness of God.

Waiting To Exhale

                The metaphor of “breath” begins in the first pages of the Bible.  God sent a wind to dry the earth which the Psalms describe as God’s breath.  God then breathed “life into Adam’s nostrils.”  When Israel was at a dark hour, Ezekiel offered a vision that God breathed new life into a valley of dried up bones and there was a great noise as the bones rattled together and came to life.  Jesus comes to us from the breath of God as God’s Word.  (John 1:1).  Could it be any clearer that God is as close to us as our very breath?

                Even if we did not know all these references in Scripture, our experience would tell us our breath is a doorway to God.  Henri Nouwen was fond of saying we experience God like we experience our breath – we do nothing to create it and we do not control it.  The vast majority of the time we are not conscious of our breath and most of the time we are not conscious of God.  We, unfortunately, often only find our breath when something disrupts it, and we likewise find God more palpable when our lives are disrupted in some way.

                So, it makes total sense that if we can become conscious of our breath, we will become more conscious of God.  We find the present when we find our breath and the present is where God is.  Our breath is a doorway to prayer.  Mystics are constantly telling us it is very difficult to pray when our minds are travelling to the past or the future (recall how many spiritual books have the word NOW in the title).  Conscious breathing is a doorway to now, to where God’s breath is.

                It gets better – the inhale and the exhale of breathing mirrors the filling and emptying required in the spiritual journey.  “Waiting to Exhale” is the name of a popular movie, but it is often what we do in the spiritual life.  We hang on to stale beliefs and concepts about ourselves and God and create no space for God’s breath.  We hang onto hurts and worries.  Thomas in our gospel does the opposite- he is an example of a great Exhaler.  He gets only a few lines in the gospel, but each is a great exhale.  He does not hang on to stuff.  (“Come let us go die with Him…”; “How will we know the way?”; “I will not believe until I put my hand in His side…..”).  Because Thomas emptied himself, he could be filled with God’s breath and he was given the honor of the Mount Everest exhale in the whole gospel when he declared to Jesus “My Lord and my God!.”

Breathing Under Water

                So, if God is as close to us as our very breath, why doesn’t our experience of God reflect this more often?  I am grateful for Richard Rohr’s recent book entitled “Breathing Under Water – Spirituality and the Twelve Steps.”  He points out that so often our life experience is like trying to breathe under water as there are so many things in life that work to suck the spiritual oxygen out of the room.  In addition to the addictions, compulsions and wounds of our own particular history, there are waves of false messages washing over us every day: we are constantly told there is a treatment for every pain, technology for every problem, that having more of everything faster is the goal and violence is appropriate to preserve all this.  Our wounds and cultural messaging can put our spiritual journey under water.

                Richard takes us through each of the 12 steps as breathing exercises for anyone on the spiritual journey.  He argues that through these exercises we can learn to name the addictive aspects in ourselves and the culture, detach from them, build a coral castle with air pockets and learn to breathe under water.  Several of the exercises involve the support and engagement with others and that is certainly my experience here.  This is a place to learn to exhale, to breathe.

                The disciples in our text today were holding their breath underwater – fearful behind locked doors.  Jesus came to them and helped them breathe.  That is the faith we proclaim: we are not alone and God is as close to us as our next breath.  Let’s breathe.


George von Stamwitz
Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Second Sunday of Easter
Saturday Evening, April 6, 2013