The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples
Breathe On Me Breath of God | January 15, 2023 Rev.Dr. Kathryn Benton
The opening music was created with the words from Dorothee Sölle, German mystic, poet and activist. She based the words on a hymn written by Edwin Hatch in 1886, changing the words slightly. Here are the words, loosely translated from the German by me…
Breathe on me breath of god
Breathe on me breath of God
Fill me with life anew
That I can love what you love
And redeem what you have given
Breathe on me breath of God
Until my heart is laid bare
Until I can be what you want
In hope and in deed
Blow on me breath of God
Until I am completely yours
Until your fire burns in me
Upon the dark earth
Breath of life breathe in me
Teach me to share the air
And the water and the bread
Come heal the earth.
The words of this song are even more beautiful in German, where I discovered that there are about five words for only one English translation for blow. The blowing of the wind, the breath, the spirit can indeed have many different characteristics and depending upon the direction and the intensity, can be both instructive and destructive, as we have seen with the extreme storms unleashed by global warming. Indeed…Breath of life…come heal the earth.
I was reminded of Dorothee Sölle this Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday because I think they had a lot in common. Both were activists who had no patience for inaction. Both had no tolerance for the trivialization of the message of Jesus. Both were ardent pacifists on a spiritual journey that included profound activism.
Sölle also found a great affinity with Meister Eckhart, 13th/14th century mystic. Of the spiritual journey, she connected with Eckhart’s concept of “Living without a why (sunder warumbe)”. She explained it like this:
There is an inner strength of being-at-peace that cannot make the goal orientation of action the measure of all things. All non-violent action in a violent world participates, in this sense, in the ‘without a why’ of the rose.
Sölle was referring also to an idea brought forth by poet Angelus Silesius from the 17th Century who wrote:
The rose is without any why, it blooms because it blooms.
It does not look at itself, and does not ask if it is seen.
Sölle and Eckhart both believed in this as a path to connecting with God…a way of being in the world. We are not to work in order to be seen…for congratulations. We are to work because we must…without a why. Sölle continues her explanation of this concept in her book, Against the Wind: Memoir of a Radical Christian:
Once, when I was particularly depressed, a friend and pacifist from Holland told me something very beautiful: ‘The people who worked to build the cathedrals in the Middle Ages never saw them completed. It took two hundred years and more to build them. Some stone-cutter somewhere sculpted a beautiful rose; it was his life’s work, and it was all he ever saw. But he never entered into the cathedral. But one day, the cathedral was really there. You must imagine peace in the same way.
So, it seems that we must take the first step even when we don’t see the whole staircase…when we don’t see the whole cathedral. This is how we must imagine peace.
Recent news reports of further bombing in the Ukraine, along with other military operations and of course, widespread violence on the streets of our cities underline the importance of this call to imagine peace. For without peace…both inner and outer, we will not be able to focus on the task of healing the earth…of healing each other…of transforming our world.
Dorothee Sölle left an important document for us…something to help guide our steps forward. It was what she called her Credo…much more meaningful than other creeds that I recited as a child. Perhaps we are in need of this credo right now…on this anniversary of the birth of one whom I believe may have signed onto it. It reads in part:
I believe in God
who created the world not ready made
like a thing that must forever stay what it is
who does not govern according to eternal laws
that have perpetual validity
nor according to natural orders
of poor and rich,
experts and ignoramuses,
people who dominate and people subjected.
I believe in God
who desires the counter-argument of the living
and the alteration of every condition
through our work
through our politics.
I believe in Jesus Christ
who was right when he
“as an individual who can’t do anything”
just like us
worked to alter every condition
and came to grief in so doing
Every day I am afraid
that he died for nothing
because he is buried in our churches,
because we have betrayed his revolution
in our obedience to and fear
of the authorities.
I believe in the Spirit
who came into the world with Jesus,
in the communion of all peoples
and our responsibility for what will become of our earth:
a valley of tears, hunger, and violence
or the city of God.
I believe in the just peace
that can be created,
in the possibility of meaningful life
for all humankind,
in the future of this world of God.
This Credo, shared in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, reveals Sölle’s belief in the responsibility of each of us to be part of that Beloved Community that needs building…to be, in the words of Teresa of Ávila, “the hands and feet of Christ”. This resonates deeply with the meaning of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe they were kindred spirits.
I’d like to end with a poem from Dorothee Sölle entitled, When he came.
He needs you That’s all there is to it Without you he’s left hanging Goes up in dachau’s smoke Is sugar and spice in the baker’s hands gets revalued in the next stock market crash he’s consumed and blown away used up without you
Help him that’s what faith is he can’t bring it about his kingdom couldn’t then couldn’t later can’t now not at any rate without you and that is his irresistible appeal.
That is the irresistible appeal of Jesus, yes, but also of King. It is the significance of each of our births as children of God. We are called to participate in this life…not to stand on the sidelines. We are called to help God to bring about God’s world. We are called to redeem what we have been given. We are called to be God’s hands and feet in the world. We do this by responding to the breath of life…laying bare our hearts...so that we can take in and animate the spark that is already present within each of us…as it is within the heart of the universe. Breathe on us, breath of God…fill us with life anew. May we burn with the fire of your spirit renewing the world through our work…through our commitment to the all-pervading source and goal of our longing. Walk with us Precious Lord…take our hands…