Breath. Without it we die. With it we not only live, but can become divinized. After God formed man out of the clay of the ground, he blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being (Gen 2:7). Jesus breathed on his disciples after the Resurrection and they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22).
St. John Eudes taught that we are meant to breathe with the breath of God. He wrote, “You are one with Jesus as the body is one with the head. You must, then, have one breath with Him, one soul, one life, one will, one mind, one heart. And he must be your breath, heart, love, life, your all.” That’s divinization.
One day I was walking the noisy streets near our Madonna House in Toronto, pondering and trying to pray. It’s hard to find interior silence when din and distraction are all around. It’s hard to know where to start reaching out in love with so many in need teeming the streets. And then it hit me: if I am truly to have one breath with Jesus, then my every breath comes from silent love (whether I’m aware of it or not), and every breath releases His presence onto the streets.
Each day we walk 15-20 minutes to and from various churches for Mass, and we decided to try praying our daily rosary on those journeys. On one level, it was crazy and the opposite of quiet recollected prayer. Sometimes we have to walk single file on the narrow sidewalks; sometimes we can’t hear the response, with screeching tires, honking horns, raucous voices drowning out our sound. But unseen and unbeknownst to the crowds, the breath of Jesus, the sacred words of prayer are flowing out from us, mingling with the dust, exhaust fumes, angry or anxious hearts on the streets. Through us, Jesus breathes on His beloved people.
A “simple” thing like breath can revolutionize our lives. It should be so natural: babies and tiny wrens know how to breathe naturally, and oh my – the sound they produce can be deafening!
But somewhere along the line, we start taking shallow breaths, and our health and well-being suffer.
Deep breathing helps everything: if we contend with insomnia or anxiety, deep breathing can lead to relaxation and inner tranquillity. To calm the nerves while singing, we can draw breath from the diaphragm, which offers a more controlled singing. Meditation calls on focussed breath from deep within to become aware of God in our hearts.
Breath. Without it we die. With it, we can be divinized, if we unite our breath, heart, mind and will with Jesus.
Let me tell you a true story about breath. Many years ago, on Christmas Eve in Combermere, I lay down to rest before our midnight Mass. I knew I wouldn’t sleep, but rest would be good. Suddenly I heard, felt, thrilled to the sound of a baby’s breath. I was instantly, completely alert, all my senses heightened. Then another sweet baby’s breath. I wept for the beauty of it. And finally, a third. With all my being I tried to hear more, but that was it. And for several days, I tried to recall, re-taste those divine breaths which I was convinced belonged to the Christ Child.
You can call it a dream. You can call it religious imagination. I don’t mind. I call it my experience of entering the breath of Jesus.
My prayer now is to live always from this sweet divine breath, and to breathe Him forth into the dry, thirsty marketplace. May seeking hearts breathe Him in.
Sketch of the Christ-Child by Alexander MacAdam