This column appeared at CatholicPhilly.com on 21 April 2014.
…then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7
It began with ashes and dust, a charcoal rendering of the mystery of redemption on my forehead. “Remember that you are dust….” With a deep breath taken at the meeting point of darkness and light it ends, “Exult, let them exult….”
“Breathe Easter now … you vigil-keepers with low flames decreased,” says Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., in his poem, “Easter Communion,” to those who have been pursued by the cold breezes of Lent. After this winter, after this Lent, I want nothing more than to breathe Easter. To let God’s breath fill my soul, to let resurrection billow in my heart.
St. John of the Cross, in his commentary on his “Spiritual Canticle,” suggests that this is how we are made and remade in this life — by God breathing in our souls, by our souls breathing in God. An act of creation I find no less miraculous than that wrought when God’s breath first moved over the waters.
Gregory of Nazianzus says our souls are a mingling of heaven and earth, the breath of God with the dust of the earth. They are lights “entombed in a cave … unquenchable.” Light that will not dim in the sharing, we who kept vigil through Lent’s dimness are promised.
In the end it is Augustine who takes my breath away. God’s breath is what first bound body to soul, he says. Our bodies may have been formed from the dust of the earth, but our souls were held within God, waiting. But even as our souls were breathed forth, bringing us into being, they are never separated from God, for God is not bound by place. We were created not to be separated from God, but joined to his very breath. In God we live, and move, and have our being.
We were once but dust and ashes, what we are now lives by God’s breath, by the Word that died and rose again. Breathe Easter, and exult.
To read from Scripture: Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord. Psalm 150.
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit, that I myself may always be holy.
— St. Augustine of Hippo
Eric Whitacre’s Alleluia. This is a very gentle setting of the Alleluia, a choral piece that feels to me like a single breath, of God in us, of us in God.