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.
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?
- 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.
Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J., is an amateur of life, a psychoanalyst by training, and a passionate practitioner of Ignatian spirituality and Black Spirituality. He is a Jesuit in formation at Creighton University in Omaha, NE where he teaches in the department of psychology.