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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Breathing Life | January 23, 2021 Message from Dr. Blake

I remember the commercial. How do you spell relief? The answer was: R o l a i d s. My answer at the beginning of the past week was: T r u m p G o n e!

It is not that I expect miracles from the new administration. I don’t! But, the new administration signaled a clearing that welcomed possibilities unimaginable under President Trump.

The Biden-Harris administration had asked for bells from different places of worship to be rung Tuesday at 2:30 PM Pacific time in memory of those who had died from the coronavirus. I was moved by this gesture. Death statistics are given each day; but, there had been no pause to ritualize, memorial the passing of the individuals from life. Surely, they were someone’s daughter, someone’s son. I remember my disgust during the Vietnam War when news media would announce the number killed daily in the war: the number of Americans, Vietnamese allies, and the enemy (Vietcong fighting for self-determination). There seemed to be little appreciation for the fact that these were “people,” created in the image of God, the Creator.

So, I was pleased to participate in some small way in remembering them through the ringing of the church bell at Fellowship Church.

My resolve was shaken a bit, however, by the news from meteorologists that there would be high winds throughout the day Tuesday, as high as 70 miles per hour in some places. One advised: “Stay Home!” Finally, I decided to make the trek across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco although the thought did cross my mind: “…never send for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

Approaching my car for the journey, I saw one of my neighbors who had been scheduled for surgery the day after the mob insurrection at the Capitol. While inquiring about the success of his surgery, I learned that it had been postponed. It was classified as elective surgery although greatly needed by him to relieve great pain and suffering. Because of the surge in COVID-19 patients needing beds, his surgery was postponed. No new date has been set. He will just have to live in misery until his surgery is re-scheduled. How many more are in a similar situation. I also learned that he and his wife had contracted COVID during last summer, quarantined themselves, and were not experiencing any side effects. I was shaken by this knowledge in addition to news regarding supply and distribution of the vaccines. Surely, it is a time for a coordinated national health system. Must I hold my breath for this?

Ringing the bell at Fellowship Church at 2:30 was something I needed to do and was elated to do it.

Another source of anxiety was the possibility of violence before, during, and/or after the Inauguration at the National Capitol and State Capitols around the nation. The fact that 25,000 national guard troops were called to the Capitol did not bring assurance, rather shame. “Is this America” as Fannie Lou Hamer would query?

And then the miracle came. I received a meditation from Nikkeya Berryhill who is a writer, creative arts practitioner, and graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary with the Master of Divinity Degree. I was fortunate to have had her as a student.

Learning to breathe together By Nikkeya Berryhill

Here we are, 2021. While we wrapped up December, I watched my friends post on social media how relieved they were to be DONE with 2020. While I did not feel a sense of relief. I thought to myself, “Just because the calendar is changing, doesn’t mean we are leaving behind 2020.” I wanted to be hopeful. As I heard of my physician sister getting the Covid vaccine. As I saw friends of mine, other frontline workers, being vaccinated as well. As I reminded myself we were entering a new presidency. A new era. Where people who look like me might actually have a chance to breathe.

Breathe Nikkeya, just breathe

But even as I hoped, I couldn’t dig my heels into the rich black dirt of relief. I couldn’t lean my back against the giant redwood tree of security. I couldn’t lay my head against the cold refreshing snow of endings and new beginnings. So instead, I focused on my gratitude. Grateful I haven’t contracted Covid. Grateful to have survived the most difficult year of my life. Grateful to have a warm home. Food on the table. Loved ones alive and well. For my health--both mental and physical. For my soul. For my heart. And even still, as I exited 2020 dancing in gratitude, I found myself holding my breath as we crossed the threshold into 2021. Afraid for what was to come.

Breathe Nikkeya, just breathe

Suddenly, there was more chaos. After witnessing the terror that took place at the Capitol earlier this month, I imagine we all find ourselves collectively holding our breath. Collectively afraid for what’s to come. Collectively terrified—as terrorist attacks tend to provoke—for our own lives, our own states of wellbeing, our own senses of safety.

Breathe with me collective, just breathe

The Hebrew word Ruach translates to “breath” or “spirit.” So as we breathe in, we are reminded that we breathe in the Spirit of God. The very breath of God. Last year, we were reminded of the importance of breath. As George Floyd called out in agony “I can’t breathe” we remembered another Black person, who cried out the same words 6 years earlier—Eric Garner—as we collectively witnessed the life of a beloved child of God being choked away by another human being.

Breathe for beloved Black lives, just breathe

In the surrealist of coincidences, concurrently, our lives were being changed while trying to prevent ourselves from contracting or spreading a virus that attacks our lungs. That chokes out our breath. We wore masks to prevent the spread, which some argued prohibited them from breathing, while others laid in hospital beds, ventilators down their throats, trying to keep on breathing. Fighting a pandemic of Covid, while drowning in a pandemic of systemic racism.

Breathe with those with Covid, just breathe

I believe that our country, in this time of terror, is losing its breath. Whether it’s getting choked out by those who do not believe in the sanctity of Black lives, it’s being sucked inside with gasps of fear, or it’s being suffocated by Covid. We cannot live if we do not breathe.

Even still, I believe there is still hope.

While we struggle to breathe, new life is being breathed into us. The Spirit of God continues breathing onto, around, into, and through us. Through movements of community building. Through opening eyes to systemic oppression. Through opening hearts to neighbor injustice.

The movements of this summer were like a windstorm sweeping across our nation. Blowing to every corner of the world. Neighbors coming together to finally see, witness, and recognize the horrors done to Black people. And then, standing together in solidarity. Breathing together as one.

Breathe together neighbors, just breathe.

We carry into 2021 fear remaining from years prior, amplified in 2020. And, we also carry with us a renewed sense of awareness of breath. Knowing that if we focus on those who cannot breathe, if we focus on the ways we have been complicit in their loss of breath, and if we focus on learning to breathe together then the Ruach—the very breath of God—will surround us, filling us up and flowing through us to BREATHE into existence a new and better world for all.

I needed Nikkeya Berryhill’s message. It was an angel sent to minister to me – to open me, resuscitate me, empower me to move forward with vitality.

“Then God The Eternal moulded man from the dust of the ground, breathing into his nostrils the breath of life; this was how man became a living being” (Genesis 2: 7).

The human, a thing of dirt, is transformed when the Creator shares the life force. No longer a thing of clay, it becomes a living soul, incorporating in its being both male and female. How intimate this was! Humanity was ordained into being, roused into a vital force that animates, that lives, that is in relationship with the dirt and all creation, that is given responsibility for the ongoing creation. Stepping back, breathing is a reminder of our responsibility to choose and live life within God’s world.

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it

If only we're brave enough to be it

– Amanda Gorman

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