I. Can’t. Breathe. // A sabbath-Pentecost meditation

by admin on May 30, 2020

I can’t breathe. These were the words spoken by George Floyd last week as the knee of a police officer pressed down on his airway, forcibly preventing the flow of air.

I can’t breathe. These were the words spoken by Eric Garner in 2014, when a police officer placed him in a chokehold that restricted his flow of air.

I can’t breathe. These are both the real & the metaphorical words we have been hearing throughout history by a people who were uprooted from their homeland, brought to America as slaves & told to learn to live as strangers & servants in a “world made for whiteness.”1

While the horror of slavery may be physically located in the past, it is still very much in the air. From the anxiety produced by having to sit your black son down to have “the talk” to the fumes emitted from highways built through the heart of historically black neighborhoods, the American way of life built on racial inequality has left people of color in a perpetual struggle to breathe.

I can’t breathe are the desperate cries of souls struggling to be free & bodies longing to be fully alive & treated as fully human.

They are also the words we are hearing from the more than 364K people who have died worldwide as a result of COVID-19.

This Sunday is the day in the life of the church when we celebrate Pentecost, when we remember how the fiery Spirit of the living God came unexpectedly upon a diverse crowd of people clustered together in Jerusalem. It’s a scene hard for some of us to imagine in our current socially-distant pandemic situation.

But it was then & there that the Jesus-like spirit or “breath” of God was transfused into human bodies & souls. It points forward to a movement inspired by Jesus & it points back to the start of the story of Scripture where God breathed life into the first human.

Breath has always been central. It’s clear again & again that while humans have a dark side that likes to trample the breath out, God shows us another way.

God, the Giver of Life & Breath wants to breathe new life, particularly into those who are struggling to breathe & we are the means through which God does this.

This Pentecost Sunday happens to be The Well’s next 5th Sunday Sabbath & not only will we not physically be together (again); we will also not be hosting a virtual gathering. We will, however, still be united by the breath of God that stirs in each one of us.

Over this sabbath weekend where Pentecost meets cries for breath, would you dare to take some time to meditate in this way:

1. Pause and become conscious of your ability to breathe. Feel the air flowing in & out of your body for several minutes (it may seem like an eternity, but try it). Give thanks for each breath. If you are someone who struggles to breathe, express your anger, your fear, whatever you feel.

2. Call to mind those who are struggling to catch their breath or to breathe deep & free or who have lost loved ones whose lives were cut short by an inability to breathe. It may be helpful to bring up some images of recent events – maybe some you have scrolled past this week, but have not really seen. Light a candle. Hold the pain, the loss, the grief in the light of God’s love & care.

3. Honestly ask yourself what invitation there is for you in this moment? How are you being stirred to greater commitment to helping your neighbors breathe freer?  What do you need to address in yourself? What biases, racism, or fear do you need to name in yourself? What do you need to learn? What new practice(s) will begin? Write them down. Share them with a friend or family member.

Our community is scattered this Pentecost Sunday, but we are together in spirit – united by the Giver of Life and Breath who longs for every living creature to breathe deep & to live as fully human, fully alive & fully loved. I hope we will each allow that Spirit to speak & to stir us into giving birth to a stronger, more vibrant & life-giving movement of God’s love & justice in the world.


1 “A world made for whiteness” comes from Austin Channing Brown’s book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.

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