In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, there is a simple practice performed by many, where they say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God…” while breathing in and then “…have mercy on me, a sinner,” while exhaling.
The Jesus Prayer (as it is called in the Orthodox tradition) is a prayer practice, of course. However, it is also a breath practice. As we, in the larger Christian tradition, consider that the Holy Spirit was breathed into dirt to make humanity, it makes sense to develop a prayer based upon spiritual life and the sacrificial life of Christ.
This same breath is also the breath that God directs Ezekiel to prophesy to. This vision of breath “breathing” life into the dead makes perfect sense as dead bones are just as empty of spiritual life as dirt.
This leads us to Jesus. His disciples weren’t dead. Their bones weren’t dry (or in an ossuary). In some ways, though, they were dead. They were dead in fear. They were dead to knowing what was next. They were dead to what God was really doing.
Then Jesus breathed on them. Some commentators view this as a blessing of sorts. Others more directly tie this to the Spirit as given to humanity to begin with and the Spirit that brought the bones back to life. Within the context, Christians would generally choose the latter (it goes well with Pentecost, after all, and that is how John explains it). Yet, blessing also makes perfect sense, as part of this short passage is about Jesus telling the disciples to be…at peace, which as “Shalom” (Hebrew for all-encompassing wholistic peace and unity) also makes perfect sense.
The leads us back to the Jesus Prayer. Breathe in the Breath of Life (the Holy Spirit). Breathe out the deathly breath of sin, despair, and alienation.
- Do you think much about breathing? Why or why not?
- What would it mean to you if you thought of breathing as breathing in the Holy Spirit, and breathing out all your sin (and the wages of sin, death)?
- Why do you think fire (a symbol of Pentecost) and the Holy Spirit (wind) complement each other as a blessing of God for the Church?
Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior of the World, have mercy on us, we humble sinners. Amen.