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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense by dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

It was a couple of years ago when I was reading a book about personality types and psychological analysis that I came across the term “emotional flooding.” As I read the definition about how one can be overcome by emotion and your ability to reason and maintain rational thinking is swept away, I was struck with a beautiful and self-revelatory breeze and much of my childhood was made clear. Needless to say, I am a highly emotive person, and I am just beginning to understand that when the rush of emotion strikes I need to counter with the simple act of becoming attentive to my breathing. 

The words breath and breathe have great significance in the Bible. In the Genesis creation story it says, “God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). There is this deep connection between breath being the life of God in and out, and in and out, and in and out of us.

Also, in John there is a story told about the disciples after Jesus’ crucifixion. They are all gathered in this room with the door locked and they are afraid of the Jewish authorities and what is going to happen now that Jesus is dead. Amazingly Jesus shows up—resurrected—and there is this awesome sentence that the writer pens: “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). 

I am not sure if John Greenleaf Whittier had “emotional flooding” in mind when he wrote this verse of the hymn, but it does seem clear that he recognizes that in the midst the “heats of our desire” what we need is not more heat of desire but rather to become attentive to our breathing—the breath of God that reminds that we belong to our good Creator, the breath of Jesus that reminds that we have his Spirit.

God of all breath, please teach me to become attentive to your Divine breath in and through me. Amen.

Written by Daniel Holladay, Senior High Youth Coordinator

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