“And the Lord God said…behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.”
– Ezekiel 37: 5
“Mom, why do we have to go to liturgy?” I’m sure many kids ask this question at some point, if not often. When my daughter’s Godmother was asked this question by one of her children, she gave an answer that is one of my favorites because it changed the way I think about liturgy. She said that we go to liturgy to “breathe for the world”. Now I can imagine that during each service…
Inhale: visions into the heavenly realm through iconography surrounding me
Exhale: for peace in the world, Lord have mercy
Inhale: incense floods my senses and shows how prayer surrounds me and travels upward
Exhale: for the sick, the suffering, and the captives, Lord have mercy
Inhale: bells on the censor remind me of all the languages in all the places joining these prayers
Exhale: for our country, the President, and those in public service, Lord have mercy
Inhale: communion—Christ enters our bodies and hearts and is breathed into the world through us
…and so liturgy allows us to breathe for the world.
Breathing is essential, it is what keeps us going, what keeps oxygen circulating through our lungs to our hearts and out to our organs and limbs. We never have to think about it, we don’t forget to do it, and it is usually easy. And yet, there was a time before we breathed.
We talk about the first breath happening just after birth, and yes, that is when the first breath of air is taken as the infant body adjusts to life in the world outside. In the womb, though, is where breathing begins. Sometime around the 16th and 17th weeks of pregnancy, each baby begins to practice breathing—they inhale and exhale amniotic fluid within the womb, only occasionally at first, but with increasing frequency as they approach readiness for life out in the world. Their little lungs practice expanding and emptying so that they will eventually be prepared to function when it really matters (at birth).
Mothers, as our babies practice (or once practiced) breathing in utero, let us continue to go to liturgy and practice breathing for the world…our lives, too, depend on it, and we want to approach readiness for life in the Light of Christ.
Exhale: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.