(Re)Learning to breathe

Clara trying not to breath (Doctor Who - 'Deep Breath')
Clara trying not to breathe (Doctor Who – ‘Deep Breath’)

One of my favorite science fiction shows is Doctor Who and one of my favorite actors in the show is Peter Capaldi. He played the twelfth regeneration of the Doctor and was introduced to the role in 2004. His first full episode as the Doctor was titled ‘Deep Breath’ – the antagonists were robots who disguised themselves as people. Their true nature was revealed when the Doctor and Clara (his companion) realized that the robots were not doing something that every human being does: breathing.

Shortly afterwards, Clara is trapped in a room alone with the robots and must hide herself among them. So she takes a deep breath and tries to escape. As you might imagine, it doesn’t last and she is discovered when she must gasp for air. Happily, the robots are eventually overpowered and defeated with the help of the Doctor and friends.

Lately it feels like we’ve all been holding our breath – waiting for the latest cancellation of public services, anticipating the unavailability of our favorite events, or just bracing for the latest development. Whether it is a news cast, official proclamation, or even a letter for your pastor, it doesn’t quite feel safe to breath…..even when we’re the recommended six feet away from each other!

The thing is, we can’t live like this forever. We have to breathe and even if we’re good at holding out for a while, eventually something will have to give.

Have you ever looked into the etymology of words around breathing? Take the word ‘respiratory’. It comes from the Latin verb spīrō, spīrāre, spīrāvī, spīrātum – to breath or draw breath. Looking at the Latin reveals an English cognate: spirit. As followers of Christ this quite naturally brings us to the Holy Spirit – the third Person of the Trinity Who truly is the breath of God.

Do you remember that scene from the Gospel of John? The Apostles are hiding from the threat of death, afraid to be discovered by their fellow Jews, gathered together in the upper room:

Appearance of Christ to His Disciples (Anthony van Dyck)
Appearance of Christ to His Disciples (Anthony van Dyck)

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 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. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:19-23)

Jesus’ first words to the Apostles stand out: ‘peace be with you’. But before He could speak those words, He had to take a breath! It is the Holy Spirit that gives voice to the peace of Christ. He in turn gives them the Holy Spirit, that they might go and do likewise.

Let us be sure that we are allowing ourselves to breath, opening our hearts and minds to Spirit passed from Christ through the Apostles to us today. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be empowered offer words of peace, consolation, and encouragement.