lenten journal: breathing lessons


When Ginger calls us to worship each Sunday, after the announcements, she says,

Take a deep breath; now let it out.
Breathe in the breath of God;
breathe out the love of God.

As we stood in the spring sunshine this morning, our palm leaves in hand, I could see the faces of people as they inhaled sacred air, many of them closing their eyes, and then exhaled that same holiness after it had passed through their lungs, part of their DNA attached to the love of God they were breathing back into the world. The rhythm of the service was like breathing for me, inhaling a word or idea or song and exhaling a connection (sometimes serious, sometimes humorous) to the Larger Story Being Told. Then we sang as we processed together into the sanctuary,

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes Hosanna cry;
O Savior meek, pursue Thy road
With palms and scattered garments strowed

And all I could hear was the cranking guitars of Eric Clapton and B. B. King covering John Hiatt’s “Riding with the King.”

Get on a TWA to the promised land.
Everybody clap your hands.
And don’t you just love the way that he sings?
Don’t you know we’re riding with the king?

It’s not the lyric as much as it is the song – and the sense that we are riding with Jesus through this week, moving from celebration to curses, from pain to death to resurrection. And that cranking guitar lick would make for a mean processional next year.

When we moved back from Africa to live in Houston, Texas, I started to Westbury High School in January, a week after everyone else had returned from the winter break. It was the first time I ever started a new school during the year and, of all the different schools I attended (ten in twelve years) it was the hardest transition to make. I signed up for drama class as a way of coping, I suppose. The people on the fringe were (are?) generally more welcoming. One of our first assignments was to lip-sync a song with original choreography. We were assigned the songs. Mine was Grover, from Sesame Street, singing,

Around and around and around and around; over, under, through.

The preposition song came to mind in church this morning as we sang, “Before the Cross of Jesus” as one of our hymns. It is a new(er) text set to the same tune as “Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” which also includes a stanza that begins,

Upon the cross of Jesus mine eyes at times can see
The very dying form of One who suffered there for me

Beneath, before, behind, upon, around, within, without, through – together they describe the directions from whence comes the relentless love of God that will not be bound or blocked from getting to us. As the stanza finishes:

And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

We made the transition from Palms to Passion reading Matthew’s account from the Triumphal Entry to Jesus’ arrest. What caught me in the reading were the behind the scenes people that made the story happen.

Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away. (21:2,3)

“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” (26:18)

Either Jesus had messianic minions or he knew people – well – that we know little or nothing about. When I was a kid, I thought Jesus had a way of casting spells on people, as though when the disciples said the right words the guy just gave up the donkey and then regained consciousness later and wondered what happened to his animal. The truth is there were fringe people who helped Jesus follow his calling, encouraging him, providing for him, befriending him beyond the disciples we know by name. Whether it’s the Passion narrative or our life stories, lots of folks are never listed in the credits but were in the right place at pivotal moments, exhaling the love of God that we might breathe in hope beyond our understanding of the circumstances at hand.

Ramon, my line cook/dishwasher at the restaurant is one of those folks. He works hard, does good work, and goes unnoticed by most of the folks who eat his food. This afternoon, he was an hour late for work. When he came into the kitchen, I told him I was beginning to get concerned about him.

“I was at church,” he said. “I had to save my life.”

Ginger closed her sermon with a prayer offered by Yousif Al-saka, an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Baghdad:

We beseech You, we humble ourselves for the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, to send your Holy Spirit to shade the land of Iraq,
so that peace may prevail in its dwellings, and the acts of violence, kidnapping and persecution may cease;
so that the displaced may return to their homes, the churches may reopen their gates without fear from shells and explosion;
so that smiles may be seen again on the faces of children that have been stolen from them here in this difficult time;
so that the elderly may lean back on their chairs in comfort and tranquility saying farewell to their children when leaving for school or work without anxiety or fear;
so that mothers think only of happy, prosperous, and peaceful futures for their daughters and sons.

O Lord, have pity on us, we Iraqis. Let the light of your face shine on us, bless us, strengthen our belief, and bestow patience upon us.

And then we sang:

What wondrous love is this?
Oh my soul, oh my soul.
What wondrous love is this? Oh my soul.

Breathe in the breath of God; breathe out the love of God.

Indeed. Amen.



  1. Wow – beautiful post, and the prayer from Al-saka is deeply moving. What a powerful way to bring “up there” down here.

    “Riding With the King” is on my iPod playlist called ‘potential church tunes’. I’ve always wanted to find a good place to program that piece (you realize that my church is a little…different…) You just gave me the perfect spot – I never thought of it as a Palm Sunday tune!

    Next year – for sure…

  2. Speaking of a little different – try “Jesus is a Rock in a Weary Land” by Frank Sinatra. It fit together with our 1st Peter reading and Holy Week.

    Living Stones! Brilliant!


Leave a Reply