The Breath of God

by | Sep 12, 2023

Ernest Hemingway once said, “All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true storyteller who would keep that from you.” 

Well, this story begins with a death.

On a frosty, late-fall Michigan evening in 1978 I pulled up to the two-story home in a wooded, upper-middle class subdivision of Port Huron, a border town nestled near the entrance to the Blue Water Bridge. The bridge spans the turbulent flow of the St. Claire River at the base of Lake Huron, connecting the United States to Sarnia, Ontario. 

I was pastoring my first church, a new congregation, and this was one of many visits a pastor makes to bond with the people.

About ten-years older than I, Lee Brown was an influential member of the nascent congregation. He was one of the reasons I accepted the call to pastor a group of people I hardly knew. I, and most people, respected Lee. 

We weren’t twenty minutes into our meeting when his home phone rang, which his wife Judi answered. “It’s for you, Lee. It’s ‘Mary’.” (I’ve substituted pseudonyms out of respect for this traumatic, life-altering event in Mary’s life.) Mary was the wife of another key church member, Ed. 

I watched as Lee listened to Mary; his changing countenance and body language revealing something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

“Lee,” Mary said in a fear restrained voice, “‘Ed is lying on the floor in the family room, and he isn’t breathing.”

“I’m coming right now with pastor Kevin. Call 911.”

Mary and Ed lived a block away from their close friends the Browns. Grabbing our coats, we dashed out the garage door into the darkened night, dodging patches of ice and mounds of autumn leaves on the empty road. 

While I ran, I prayed. Silently. Frantically.

Ignoring the doorbell, we rushed directly into the living room where Mary and her teenage daughters were standing in a corner away from the family room. Pointing toward the family room, she almost whispered, “Ed is in there; he’s not breathing; he’s….” And her words fell off. She was in shock, numb. She knew her husband was gone. The daughters, confused and paralyzed, clutched to their mother. 

When Lee and I entered the room, we saw Ed’s supine body on the floor in front of the couch. His face was blue, cold; his eyes open but blank. His still body was there; Ed’s spirit was gone.

Lee and I looked at each other, knowing we needed to do something before the paramedics arrived. At first Lee applied pressure to his chest. No response. 

Then Lee said, “Mouth-to-mouth, Kevin, we must give mouth-to-mouth.” That task fell to me. And so, I put my lips on this wonderful, generous man and blew into his lungs. 

My breath—my life—into Ed’s lungs, hoping to kick-start his breathing into deep, dramatic gasps of restored life. A breath of my life to animate his death. Perhaps he will live again.

That’s how it happens in the movies. Miraculous recoveries, happy endings. But this was no movie, and I wasn’t God.

My breath was no breath of life; like in the garden of Eden where God formed the body of a man from the earth “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7).

Still, I persisted, praying for a miracle, hoping one was coming yet knowing one wasn’t.

I thought it would feel like blowing into a balloon, with visible expansion and contraction of Ed’s chest. Instead, my air felt like blowing through a straw into an icy soda glass. His lungs weren’t filled with air; they were clogged with liquid. Perhaps, I thought, water would expel from his lungs—like a drowning victim pulled from a rip tide who coughs up the ocean on a beach.

It was not to be. Ed was not born again that day. Later I learned he had suffered catastrophic pulmonary edema. 

I’ve thought much about the breath of God since that day. Sometimes lying on my bed at night I pray, “Thank you God, for every breath I have. You, only you, can give life.” And then I take a breath from God and worship Him.

The Resurrection Doxology says it best:
Praise God who spoke all things to be
And by his Word made all we see,
Who filled us with his breath to live,
And from our hearts his praise to give.

 

 

 

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