Week of the Sunday from June 12 to June 18
O Lord, from whom all good proceeds: Grant us the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may always think those things that are good, and by your merciful guidance may accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As a teacher, I’ve had to proctor a lot of exams. Sometimes, these settings are relaxed enough that I’m allowed to glance at a book or get some grading done. But most of these exams are structured with rigid regulations for testing monitors. There are dire warnings about what will happen to anyone who dares to do anything but pace silently and furtively through the room while the students complete exams that will take almost all day.
I’ll admit the kids have it worse—they have to take the tests, after all—but it’s a pretty mind-numbing experience for a teacher. And in the boredom of the silent room, I often become strangely attenuated to the breathing in the room. Because other than the scratch of pencil on paper and shifting in seats, that’s all you hear: breathing. Some are breathing in allergy-ridden sniffles; others let out huffy sighs to mark their frustration; others breathe in measured, mechanical puffs, like runners who’ve trained for this marathon.
Inspiration: Holy Breath
In this season after Pentecost, we are reminded of the Holy Spirit, but we would do well to consider the nature of spirit, a word that in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English derives from the word breath or wind.
When we think of our own spirits or of the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we turn it into something profoundly internal. It’s something that exists always and forever inside of us. But, as anyone who has sat in a silent room filled only by the varied breathing of test-takers knows, breath is about drawing into us that which exists freely outside of us.
Inspiration, to draw breath, is the mysterious adoption by our flesh and bone and blood of the breezes that blow invisibly around us. We make a grave mistake in presuming that we are closed circuits who produce and pump our own vitality from moment to moment.
Praying for Our Lives
Truly, all good proceeds from God, and it is no casual act to ask for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—in a very real sense, in this prayer, we are begging for our lives. It’s a rejection of the Pelagianism that creeps into our hearts, whispering to us that there’s plenty good about us and—okay, fine—we could use an infusion of God’s goodness to make us better, but really we are just fine as is. Praying this prayer we reject this, confessing that without God’s breath even our first thoughts cannot be good.
But drawing breath is not meant merely to sustain life.
This breath we take in—this wind, this spirit—makes its way through our nose with its turbinates that spin and filter air and send it on, past the closed esophagus and down into our lungs, into swelling alveoli who barter oxygen for blood. But it is with this same breath that we shape our speech, pressing it up through the larynx, trachea, the cathedral of molars and cheeks, and over our tongues, sending breath out again in waves of sound strong enough to clack together tiny bones of the inner ear—hammer, anvil, stirrup.
We are given the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we might announce the goodness of God through his son Jesus Christ to all the world.
Kolby Kerr is an Anglican priest who serves at Restoration Anglican Church in Richardson, Texas. He’s also the Assistant Director (and regular blog contributor) at LeaderWorks, a nonprofit organization that provides leadership services to help church leaders do their work. Before joining LeaderWorks, Kolby taught high school English for ten years. He and his wife Emily live in Richardson with their two sons, Beckett and Samuel.