Breath

Ever since the shift to daylight savings began my “inner alarm clock” wakes me up somewhere between 3:00 and 3:30 am. I am used to early rising, but really. And yes, naps are required at point(s) during the day. I was chatting about this yesterday with a friend who remarked, “You know, my 90 year-old aunt has the same problem…”  Yikes! My new measure is one of even-more-senior citizens?  Oh well, I am still young at heart.

Anyway, the morning hours are the time in which I think I am most creative (or at least no one is calling, texting or emailing), so I try to do most of my writing in the early morn. Already this morning I posted on the Holy Spirit. That done, I took a break and sat with the Morning Prayers of the Divine Office. In the quiet before the day begins I was doing what you are not suppose to do in prayer, run down the list of things that need to be done. Inevitable perhaps, as this Sunday is the first publicly celebrated Sunday Mass since the 3rd Sunday in Lent. And like most places, it is not as simple as just opening the doors of the church. Lots of details that call for attention. But at least I do not have to worry about a homily. Deacon Ray will preach this morning…ok, one less thing to do…

Finally assured that things were well in hand, I was able to return to the quiet. What came to me on this Pentecost Sunday was that if I had prepared a homily earlier in the week, I would have set it aside and just trusted the Holy Spirit to guide my words. The Spirit, pneuma (πνεῦμα) in ancient Greek. The word for “breath” and is the NT choice for translation of the Hebrew ruach (רוח) which means “wind”, “spirit” or “breath.” The ruach hovered over the chaos  when “the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind (ruach) sweeping over the waters.”  The ruach gave life to the world. The ruach that came to the prophets to speak the word of God to a people in need of healing and conversion. The ruach that was the font of Wisdom and maker of covenants.

The ruach/pneuma that descended upon Jesus beginning a new creation. In the Gospel of John there is a counting of days (the next day, on the third day) that occurs from 1:19-2:12 in which the Fourth Evangelist enumerates the seven days of a “new creation” in the coming and revelation of Jesus; Jesus who the fulfillment of the Covenant

Here on this Pentecost Sunday Jesus appears to the Apostles in the Upper Room and passes on that gift of the Spirit.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The presence of ruach / penuma / Spirit passed on to the people of God. The presence who brings energy for new creation, for life, for prophetic witness, for wisdom, and to fulfill covenant of love.  “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them…”

Peace, sent into the world, and breath. Words strangely in juxtaposition to this weeks news, when a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis pleaded: “Please, I can’t breathe” and died. What followed in Minneapolis was anything but peaceful, questionably wise in action, but profoundly prophetic in voice. George Floyd, after a police officer knelt on his neck. Ahmaud Arbery, while on a jog in Georgia. Breonna Taylor, while police raided her Louisville, Kentucky, home. And the ones before: Eric Garner, who couldn’t breathe. Philando Castile, in the car with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter. Trayvon Martin, only a boy. Peace, wisdom, witness, covenant – all absent in moments that never need have occurred.  Some might say the Spirit was not present. I would suggest the Spirit is always present, but in this case not chosen. Why?

Some have said that as the covid pandemic rages across the globe, an ongoing pandemic infects this country seen in the killing of black Americans. “Pandemic” is from the Greek pan demos meaning “across all people.”  Clearly these killings are not across all people. Perhaps epidemic is the more appropriate choice: affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time. Maybe that is it? How to name the epidemic? It is called  racism that is present in a disproportionate number of Americans.

In my first job after the Navy, I shared an office with an African American engineer. He grew up in Prince George County, Maryland. I remember being shocked at his story of being stopped over the weekend while driving. It was late and he was serving a bit in his lane because he was changing cassette tapes in his car. A local law officer pulled him over wondering if driving under the influence was at play. The encounter was professional, respectful, a non-problem, and everyone went on their way. The part that shocked me was that he had been taught at an early age, if pulled over, keep both hands on the steering wheel in plain site. It was a part of his life that was as natural to him as shocking to me.

In the conversation, knowing I grew up in the South, he asked me if I thought I was a racist. Of course my first instinct was to say, “no!” But I grew up in a house whose parents were polite, but were people of their generation for which, while the n-word was reserved for angry moments, there were plenty of other synonyms that made the same point. My world had different water fountains for “white” and “colored.”  The bathrooms were separate. The schools were segregated. People of color sat at the back of the bus. That was the world in which I grew up. The memories are deep and lasting. It was a legacy of my youth.

“Are you a racist?” My answer was “I have to chose not to be.” You chose to follow the voice of the Spirit and not the familiar call of legacy. If you make the choice “not-to-be” often enough, over a lifetime, you can move closer to “no.” But once the epidemic infects you, it never fully goes away. But along the way the gift of the Spirit is there with the grace needed to be a gift for new creation, for life, for wisdom, to fulfill covenant of love – and for prophetic witness.

For the pandemic we shelter in place. But for the epidemic we are called to discern, to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, that we can each answer the question, “Are you a racist?” From the Spirit-led answer, each one is called to action that we might be a source of new creation, life, wisdom, love or prophetic witness. And as the days pass onward, we need to mindful that the Spirit is ever present to guide our choices.

 

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