THE DESPERATE NEED FOR BREATH
Image by Oleksandr Stepura (Pixabay)
It is awful to watch a nation like India in the grip of such death and disaster. Here is a nation that has been overcome by the covid virus – a lack of oxygen, hospital beds and even crematorium facilities means that chaos reigns. And as we know, the grief, pain and loss for relatives and friends is immense for every person who suffers and dies with this disease.
One of the things that struck me is this lack of oxygen. Or the inability to get all the large reserve of industrial oxygen to the places that need it for medical purposes. I remember a year ago seeing huge tanks rumbling slowly down the main road near where I live as oxygen was repositioned around the country.
The desperate need for breath also made me think of the awful murder of George Floyd where he said “I can’t breathe” so many times. And how this phrase has been taken up by many people to express their own suffocation in an unjust, unequal and long corrupted racist world.
Last week a whole Indonesian crew died as their submarine sank to impossible deaths and the air ran out.
The volcano that erupted on the Island of St Vincent has caused utter devastation – filling the sky with ash, clouding the air and forcing thousands of people to flee. And hurricane season is on the way, where these same people need both clean air but also shelter against air-turbulence that takes lives and destroys everything in its path.
And of course there is the inexorable breathlessness of our planet as the impact of our industry, activity and lifestyles produce more toxic emissions than we can deal with.
Whether people are fighting for breath because they physically cannot breathe; or fighting for the breath of the soul, to live fully rather than in a state of cultural, personal or creational strangulation: these fightings express the sin, sickness and death of a world far away from its Creator.
One of the words given by the press to these current tragedies is Apocalyptic; the way we often use this word is to refer to the dreadful calamities that are prophesied in the book of Revelation. These are signs of the final days, the end times – where violence, plagues and physical disruption are in much evidence.
One older and respected Indian journalist, Javleen Singh wrote this week: We journalists are supposed to write the first draft of history so let me put it on record that I have never seen India in a worse moment. There have been bad times before but we knew we could always get through them. This time there is despair.
She echoes the tone of St John writing the first draft of the end of history. This book was written to describe what it was like to live in the Roman Empire for those early Christians – they didn’t have to wait thousands of years to experience the reality of such images. And they are words and prophesies that have been relevant in many places and many times since.
Revelation describes a world that writhes in the pain of sin and distance from its loving Creator. But people are called to stand in the midst of it all, to pray, to live obediently and in hope. This standing is about attitude and faith and also about how we think, behave, talk and act. Now is a time for us to pray – for those in distress, for those who have felt the weight of oppression and marginalisation, for those who are cruelly and capriciously in danger of death and for our physical and natural world as it erupts in fire, floods, looting and loss. And then to use the breath we have to serve people and planet around us.
O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and pow'r;
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.
O Wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need;
then in your tenderness remake us,
revive, restore, for this we plead.
O Breath of love, come breathe within us,
renewing thought and will and heart;
come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us,
revive your church in ev'ry part.
O Heart of Christ, once broken for us,
'tis there we find our strength and rest;
our broken, contrite hearts now solace,
and let your waiting church be blest.
Revive us, Lord! Is zeal abating
while harvest fields are vast and white?
Revive us, Lord, the world is waiting,
equip your church to spread the light.
Hymn written by Bessie Porter Head in 1920
Martin J Young