The human lungs of God
Peter Seal, 24 July 2016
Colossians 2: 6–15; Luke 11: 1–13
A summer sermon; a sunny sermon I hope, with holidays in mind. I want to speak a bit about prayer, by which I mean our own individual relationship with God. I hope this may feel a bit like sunbathing, a soaking-in of the all-important vitamin D that we Christians might call prayer.
From our first reading in the letter to the Colossians we heard how, in Jesus Christ, the Colossians had been given ‘the whole fullness of deity’. Jesus is not a God whose domain is simply this, or that, part of life. Christ is the God of all creation and the God of all life. In effect, Paul is saying to these people: ‘In Christ you have all you need’.
This may be an important message for many today who retain a tentative Christian faith, allied with a curiosity about other faiths. It’s really good to explore other faiths, realising as we do so that in Jesus Christ we have – if we are prepared to look deeply enough – all that any other faith offers.
In the opening line of today’s gospel reading there’s something touching about the moment when the request is made, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ (Luke 11: 1). Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know which of the disciples said this? Whoever it was – and it might well have been any of them – the truth is, we all make this request at some time, in some way, and sometimes very often.
At times we may be close to despair, or just about ready to ‘throw in the towel’ on God, because of what he goes on allowing to happen to us, and to so many folk in our world, who continue to suffer so terribly. At those times we utter a heartfelt, ‘Lord, teach me to pray’. When prayer feels hard, even impossible, that’s the time to hold on tight and go on holding on, even if only by the tips of our fingers. That’s the time when our relationship with God becomes deeper, more honest, when it has a new reality.
Trying to pray is praying. If we say quite simply, ‘Hi God, it’s me’, that’s enough. God hears and the relationship is opened up again. As the children’s song expresses it, ‘It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord’.
Beating heart … intake of breath … breathing and stillness. These are the contemplative spaces in which the soul moves to the music of life in the present moment. The spaces in which authentic connections happen. It is in these spaces of connectedness that everything belongs – and things begin to make sense. Breathing is the very experience of life, of being, of unity – and of God. The name and nature of God can become an intimate reality when we realise that they are as close as our own breath, indeed that they can be breathed.
Breathing is the very experience of life, of being, of unity – and of God.
The correct pronunciation of the Hebrew word ‘Yahweh’ is an attempt to imitate the very sound of inhalation and exhalation. Notice what happens when you gently breathe in for ‘Yah’ and out for ‘weh’ a few times. It can bring a sense of peace. Our breathing is the invisible life force that links all created things.
Our breathing, the one thing we unknowingly do every moment of our lives, is therefore a way of speaking the unifying name of God. So you could say that the beginning of life and the end of life, our first breath and our last breath, are a form of prayer. And, of course, so are the millions of breaths we take in between.
The baby arrives gasping for breath. She is gasping for life. She is gasping for love. The individual umbilical cord is broken only so that a more universal intimacy may begin. Our first breath, and every breath, brings us into deep and vital conversation with all beings and thus with the divine essence.
In our breathing we are part of a common body. We are the human lungs of God. And this experience of the sacred, and of prayer, is open to everyone. It is the one precious connecting lifeline we all share. It’s our common bond.
Lord, teach us to pray. (Luke 11: 1)
Jesus encouraged us to ‘pray at all times’. Sentences like these (and there are many more) can be a real help. To know one off by heart and then gently repeat it at any time of the day or night helps focus the heart and mind.
God is love; and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. (1 John 4: 16)
From God and through God and for God all things exist – to God be glory for ever. (Romans 11: 36)
God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough for me. (Mother Julian of Norwich)
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (Known as the Jesus Prayer)
Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. (John 14: 6)
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. (Galatians 5: 22)
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people.
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. (Mother Julian of Norwich)