A God Who Breathes New Life into Us

BY PATRICK SAINT-JEAN, S.J. | March 15, 2021
Today’s Readings

I was once visiting a friend who was a midwife in the northern part of Haiti, and we went out for a short walk one evening. A group of women of the village suddenly pulled her aside, saying “A woman is about to give birth; you need to come now.” Since I was present with her, she said “Let’s go.” 

When we got there, I saw more than 20 women standing around the woman who was giving birth; they invited me to join them. We all held hands, and my friend the midwife said “Breathe, breathe, breathe,” and all of us chanted, “Breathe” with her.

A God Who Breathes New Life into Us

The midwife said, “Keep going until I say otherwise. You are participating in something new now. If you stop chanting, the lives of the baby and the mother will be on your heads.”

This experience helped me to learn how breathing is an act that unites us, and beyond that how the sharing of our breath can help a newborn in a sacramental process.

In Scripture, breath symbolizes both God’s Spirit and the continuous gift of life. Breath embodies life, our ability to hold body and spirit together. When the act of breathing leaves our bodies, so do our spirits. To deny breath severs the living connections that are meant to unite us with God and one another.

In the book of Isaiah, Jesus pauses and says, “Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth [with breath].” Breathing comes as an act of new creation.

Breathing is a sacramental step that goes beyond our limitation to re-recreate ourselves, imagining our possible togetherness, one without the need for enemies and division. 

During this Lent, just as the midwife asked us to breathe together as an act of solidarity that helped the woman give birth to her child, today, we are invited to stand in solidarity with America, to help her give birth to something new.

Are you ready?

For Reflection: 

  • Take a few moments to slow your breathing. As you do so, consider how you are being called to breathe as an act of solidarity—to give birth to something new.

5 replies
  1. Avatar
    Mary Dahl says:

    Today I go and pick out flowers to surround my dear husband’s urn. Breathe…just breathe has been my mantra for quite a few years now. In- Spirit-ion.

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Dr Eileen Quinn Knight says:

    When my first grandchild was born, I held her and imitated her breathing. Soon the rhythm of our breaths were the same. There was something lovely about breathing together. It was a sacred moment for both of us. She is now over 4 feet tall and we still breathe together. It reminds us of God in our lives. He is there with us without beckoning Him. In some ways we breathe grace into each other. We are tied together by family ties and by divine ties. Our family ties are ones we keep alive by our intentionality and care for each other. Our devine ties are kept alive through frequent and constant prayer. We keep the devine ties together through prayer for each other and for others we keep in contact with and whom we meet in our everyday lives. Lord, we ask that you help us to breathe grace into the lives of all we meet today.

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Elaine says:

    Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J.,
    Thank you for this excellent article. It drew me in perhaps more than any other recent article from this ISN has. I pictured you all being at the side of the woman giving birth and breathing with her. I had not thought of breathing as an act that could unite us and you express this so meaningfully.
    I started to pause after each sentence/paragraph and think about what you were saying. It took me back to Creighton Univ. to some of my philosophy classes and how philosophy, which was so new to me, became so important to me in my life etc. I had not thought of breathing being a “sacramental step.” It then took me to Holy Saturday night vigil Mass and how the presence of the Spirit is so beautifully expressed in the Scripture readings. That “breath” of the Spirit of God is indeed so unifying.
    After I read the articles appearing on this site I usually go to the info on the author of the article and was so happy and surprised to see that you are a Jesuit in formation at Creighton!!! It was a “Jesuit in formation” so many years ago whose class I reflected on in the middle of reading your article!
    Thank you for this excellent article and insight into the sacramentality of breathing and your actual life experience that brought about the sensitivity of something we take for granted.
    I shall reflect more on this and reread it hoping to lead me further into that which truly unites all of God’s people.
    You have a most beautiful gift of expression and sense of unity. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Martina says:

    This moves me greatly. Babies come along better when there is support and solidarity and rhythm of breathing like this. But also I wanted to share that my mentor has the practice of starting our groups with attention to the breath, to the ease with which we take in what we need, and let go of what no longer serves us. That the body has this rhythmic tidal flow with nature, with the air, is quite wonderful and a great anchor for us to share, as we share gravity, and the sensing of time and space. THANK YOU!

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Dr.Cajetan Coelho says:

    Thanks Pat. Your article reminds me that I need to keep up my breathing exercises that were taught to me by my yoga instructor. Indeed systematic breathing enhances the overall tone of one’s concentration, coherence and well-being.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *