What would it be like if we all just stopped for a moment and took a deep breath? What if we took that breath and imagined we were breathing in the very breath of God, and then exhaled everything in us that rejects God's ways? Maybe we should breathe in and out a few more times... How many breaths does it take before we feel calmer, perhaps more hopeful? How many breaths does it take before fear, anxiety, and stress lessen? There are days when I wish everyone in the world would just take a deep breath, come into God's presence, and relax for a few minutes.
Okay. So maybe I'm projecting. I'm just another pastor who has come through a very busy holiday season and I'm a bit drained. Sure. There's that, but this Advent and Christmas was not like any I've experienced. All those promises of Advent – hope, peace, joy, and love – seemed a bit more distant and harder to bring into reality than in years past. And those of us who made it to the manger to honor the Christ-child were more worn out from the journey than in previous years. The need for the Magi to show up and remind us just who Jesus is, was stronger this year and, yet, so many of us remain unable to respond. In the face of all that is happening in the world, Christmas was a bit of a stretch for many of us. And now it feels like it was eons ago.
We live in a world not unlike Samuel's where the word of the Lord is rare and visions are not widespread. I suspect God is still calling in the night though our ability to hear is significantly impaired. When fear and anxiety weigh heavily on us, who can hear God calling us out of sleepiness into a life of love and service? If we are able to take a few minutes to breathe, then maybe we will have the courage to listen for God's voice and the trust needed to follow Samuel's example.
Unfortunately, I think the problem lies deeper than our need for spiritual hearing aids. It has more to do with our reluctance to believe as the psalmist did – that God is with us wherever we are and God's claim on us does not change in the depths of Sheol or at the farthest limits of the ocean. God is with us at the rise of the sun and in the absence of the moon. God is with us no matter what we think of ourselves. God made us – fearfully and wonderfully. The psalmist knew this in the center of his being. I'm not sure that we do. We put so much between us and God, that it's hard to believe that God's love permeates every aspect of who we are. Our inability to recognize it does not change the truth. Is it possible to breathe deeply enough to re-center ourselves in God's unchangeable love for us?
As if to affirm this need to be spiritually and physically anchored in God's love for us, Paul reminds us that our bodies are not our own. They are on loan from God and they are temples of the Holy Spirit. Let's take a moment to breathe in this truth. Think of all the things we do with our bodies, to our bodies, that honor no one. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, no matter what we do to our bodies. Surely, we can be more careful with these temples of ours. And if we can be more careful with our own, can we recognize the sacred temples of our neighbors' bodies? Still breathing?
Well, let's keep at it because we are invited to do great things. Yes, Jesus did great things and people marveled. While it's easy to forget that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, it's even easier to forget that we are the embodiment of Christ. As such, we are to be doing great things. Maybe not opening the heavens so that angels can come and go, but making manifest the realm of God. This is our job and it requires deep breathing for sure. Every time we give into the fear and hatred that those in power sow among us, we are failing to embody Christ. Any time we respond to fear-mongering, racism, xenophobia, and the other hateful traits of the current administration, we are betraying the one who calls us by name in the deepest hour of the night.
During this season of Epiphany, may we all come to know God's presence anew. May we breathe deeply and remember whose we are and what we are created to do. God has not stopped calling us. Visions are not as rare as we think they are; have you not heard the prophets calling us to peace and justice for all people? God is present with us always and everywhere (even if we forget or deny it). Our bodies sacred temples on loan to us. The Holy Spirit would like a bit more comfort in her temples and she'd rather we not desecrate any bodies in which she dwells. God is waiting for us to do great things. May we have the tenacity (or is that audacity?) and courage to take a deep breath and echo Samuel's words, "Here I am."
Rachael Keefe has been ordained in the United Church of Christ since 1992. She has served in parish, community, and health care settings. Currently, she is the pastor of Living Table, United Church of Christ.
You can follow her at https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com