Have you ever held your breath for more than a minute? Have you ever been under water without the immediate possibility of finding the surface? If you have, you have probably noticed a tightened chest and a mysterious kind of pain filling your lungs. Facts are, and forgive me for stating the obvious, we need our breath to live and we need the proper context to be able to breathe. We can’t breathe under water. ‘Pneuma’ is used in the New Testament. It can mean air, breath, soul or spirit when translated to English. Western scholastic thought have done it’s best to separate the very physiological sense of the word ‘Pneuma’. Enduring Gnostic thought has done its best to pull the spiritual from the physical but as I will describe below this is far from the truth when talking about the ‘Pneuma’ of God, Our physical being need ‘Pneuma’ to live.
Breath is automatic when circumstances are right. Our bodies breathe without us consciously deciding it should do so, when we sleep, while doing other things. While not doing it, our whole being lets us know that we need to. It is one of the physical fundaments our life depends on. Breath is to invite something in, to invite life in. It is also letting go of something, to let go of life. We breathe in and then we breathe out. Both are life-giving motions. If you have eyes to see you see this pattern in all kinds of circumstance. We see it in Church life where we need to be present with God, to worship as community in love in His Sanctuary, to breathe in His presence, to worship at His throne because that is life. Once we have His life in us (His breath, the Holy Spirit), when we know who we are and that we a re loved, we are able to breathe out this life and love into the world. We go out and we become instruments, branches, members that can do what the Son is doing because the same Spirit resides in us. Church life has the same dynamic as breathing. It is not supposed to be forced. It is not even supposed to be chosen (as most people since the ‘Enlightment’ understand ‘choice’ read more on this here: http://glory2godforallthings.com/2014/01/15/obedience-and-the-modern-world/), it just is. It is a state of being, we do not choose to breathe. We may choose not to but that does not last very long or feel natural. We see this pattern in marriage as well. Sometimes you have to retreat as a couple and be with each other, to re-connect in a busy life, to be able to rest with the other. Once we have this stability, from this place of restoration, we are able to breathe out and serve both children, at work and in other circumstance. This pattern surface amongst the prophets in Church history as well, they withdraw, retract into the desert/chamber to be with God, to breathe Him in to later be able to ‘breathe out‘ the message God in public. What has been formed in the unseen is revealed to the world. We see it in study; we take knowledge in so that we later can utilize it in the physical. We see it in writing where every book requires an internal process of the author, accumulating thoughts and information so that he or she can articulate ideas and stories on paper. You probably get the idea, this pattern is everywhere. The trick is not to become stagnant in one or the other of those positions because Breath by its very nature is movement, the opposite of stagnation. By nature it is Life.
When the early Church talks about the Spirit of God, it is this very physiological sense it refers to. The Spirit is understood as the very Power (Dynamis) of life. The Spirit is not something aloof or far away, the Spirit is the very Sustainer of life. The strong wind at Pentecost is the same wind that made man a living being. The Holy Spirit hovered over the waters in the creation of the world and is still hovering over the waters of baptism. We are once again invited to access the right context for our breath, to come out of the water. We are invited into the body of Christ once more, where our lungs can breathe the air of Love.