As many of you know, this week, I was in Colorado with my pastor’s group, the “Mountaineers,” for a week of study leave. For the last couple of years, our group has been spending our continuing education time together focused around the theme, “Ruach Elohim,” or Breath of God. As we Christianized this concept as the Holy Spirit, I sometimes fear that we have tamed it. The reality is there is so much depth to the Breath of God, that Spirit seems a bit divorced from the great breadth of meaning that lies there in. One thought that has been central to our studies has been the idea of each breath we take being God. When God blows into that earth and creates Adam, that Breath forever becomes the reminder of the living God through whom we have our life. If we take that seriously, we understand that the air around us is the very embodiment of God. In fact, it means that every breath, every breeze, every wind, every bubble, even every word spoken using our breath belongs to God and is the movement of God in our world. As I write this, sitting in a coffee shop, a woman just walked past me causing a stir in the air—every time we move through this world we are effecting the movement of God for those around us! If, indeed, this is the case, then we must be all the more careful with the air around us. The words we utter. The garbage we dump into our air. Our movement in the world.
As we have jumped into this study, we started with solid biblical study with a scholar in Chicago. We also spent time with the unpredictable and wild energy of improv comedy—taking classes in it at the IO theater—to dive deeper into the Breath of God. We have studied physiology and the way breath and heart works together to center us, to keep us moving, to keep us living. This past week, we climbed to the top of the second highest peak, in the lower 48 states to experience breathing in thin air.
This was a powerful experience for me. I very nearly did not make it to the top of that 14,433 ft tall mountain. There were several things that came together for me to be able to make it to the very summit that were most certainly connected to the movement of the breath of God. Don’t worry, you will hear about many of those stories in upcoming sermons. However, in the meantime I wanted to focus on one aspect of this climb—Breathing when there is no air.
In Albuquerque, we already live at a much higher elevation than the rest of the country at 5,312 ft. But let me tell you, the 9,121 ft difference from Albuquerque to Mt. Elbert is huge. It was at about 12,000 ft that I got to a point where I could not breath. I sucked in and sucked in, and I never felt enough air in my lungs to be able to put one foot in front of the other. I began to feel dizzy. I began to feel faint. I began to feel a killer headache coming on. At 12,000 ft, I almost gave up. However, I started moving again, agreeing with myself that I would take about 30 steps, and then take about 30 seconds to catch my breath. I finished the last 2,433 ft in this fashion. Walk and then rest. Walk. Then Rest. It took me as long to hike the last 2 miles of the hike to the top as the first 5 miles. But I made it. I made it by taking time to breathe. By Stopping. By Resting.
Friends, I don’t have to tell you that we live in a world where the air—the Breath of God—sometimes feels a little thin. It is easy to find ourselves out of breath when we look around at the mountain of challenges before us. However, small steps and taking time to breathe can give us the strength needed to overcome. I don’t think that message comes easily to us. As I sat there at 12,000 ft contemplating whether to turn back or press on, my head filled with meaningless slogans from our culture—Just do it! Never Give up! Those messages just filled me with cynical responses that probably shouldn’t be shared here, but most of which had to do with pushing through and dropping from a heart attack. While those have their place–namely selling stuff, I feel that the more important thing to remember is not meaningless platitudes or sneaker commercials. It is to stop and breathe. Take the time to rest. Find your pace, take a few steps, then stop and breathe.
When Jesus was confronted by the Tempter in the desert, and was encouraged to turn rocks to bread to sustain himself, Jesus quoted a reminder from scripture, “Humans do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Think about it. Words do not come without Breath. The Breath of God carries the WORD to us. It seems so simple, and yet so hard—Jesus is telling us to stop and breathe amidst the challenges and hungers we find around us.
Looking up at the 1st of 3 false summits, knowing I had miles and thousands of feet of elevation to go, I was ready to give up. But taking those first few steps, and stopping to really breathe, let me focus on the next few steps, and the next breath.
It is the same with our life in this broken world. Take time to stop and breathe. When it all becomes too much, remember, you are not sustained on bread alone—on this world, and the stuff in it alone—but the breath from every word of the Lord. Stop. Breathe. Pause. Take it at your own pace.
It is an important reminder in this week as we turn to Luke 12:13-21. This passage talks about the accumulation of stuff, and far too often, that is one of the reasons we don’t stop to breathe. We push ourselves to succeed, to accumulate, to attain, and so often it comes at the cost of breath. It comes at the cost of rest. It comes at the cost of forgetting that we are sustained not on bread alone—not on stuff alone—but on every breath/every word of the Lord.
Stop. Breathe. Move on. Stop. Pause. Reflect. Pray. Move on. Stop. Breathe. Remember that those breaths are the Breath of God. Move on. Stop. Breathe. That is what Sunday morning is about. Stop. Breathe. Carry that breath out into the world with you. Stop. Breathe. It is the only way to make it to the mountaintop.