Thursday, July 14, 2011

Breath of Life: A Most Unusual Anniversary

This essay was previously available through a now closed company called Churchmouse Publications.  As tomorrow is the second anniversary of this special day, I thought it was a good time to share this piece.  Hope you enjoy it.

This one's for you, Bob.  :)

It was a hot summer day, and I was driving in an area I hadn’t even intended on visiting.  It seemed that I was making one wrong turn after another, and I was beginning to get a little frustrated when I noticed a group of people gathered on the side of the road.  Next, I saw a collapsed man lying there on the sidewalk.  I stopped my state car and ran to help.  

The individual had signs of life for the first couple minutes, then he quietly died there on the hot pavement.  Almost simultaneously, two of us were down on the ground beginning CPR.  I worked the compressions while my assistant did an expert job giving breaths to the individual.  After a set or two (30 compressions to 2 breaths is a set), we turned the person on his side because of what we thought was either breathing or choking, but it may just been what’s called agonal breathing.  Later that afternoon, I learned from the fire department that the individual arrived at the hospital with good vitals; he was alive. 

The experience for me has taken on a spiritual dimension.    God used the two of us to return a man’s life, to give him a second chance.  I am particularly struck with the symbolism of the breath of life.  In Genesis 2:7 we read, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”  Life is infused through breath, and in its absence there is only death.  Our very lives have us moving inexorably towards either everlasting life or everlasting death; the choice is ours.  How do we breathe the “Breath of Life” into lives which are moving the wrong direction, away from God?  Here is how Saint Augustine put it eloquently in Confessions.

You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.  You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.  You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now I pant after you.  I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

Saint Augustine recognized that even good things could distract him from God’s presence.  A life without Christ at its center is a living death, a pale reflection of what could be.  When we turn to Christ and follow him wherever He leads (and whatever the personal cost), we are becoming the men and women we were created to be, turning our backs on the world.  For Catholics, in particular, the sacraments serve as a physical manifestation and reminder of God’s grace and boundless love.  Each time we take communion, we are in essence calling out for the breath of God to blow away our imperfections, our failings as we endeavor to become better servants and co-workers of Christ.  The exhortation of the first chapter of James is powerful reminder of what it means to be for Christ and against the world.  
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

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