Have you ever experienced something so beautiful, so meaningful that it took your breath away for a split moment, followed by reverence and awe? I’ve had a few of these. Just recently while driving on an isolated road in mid-morning, I saw a red tail hawk descend toward me, gracefully and almost mischievously demanding my attention and then up it flew in a perfect spiral catching sunbeams on its wings until it was out of sight. I stopped the car to watch, so inviting its dance had been. It took my breath away. Another time, our dog Allie and I were sitting at the bank of Tinker’s Creek when suddenly a plump of Canada geese erupted out of the horizon, furious black wings and bodies beating against a magenta spring sky at twilight. I was amazed at their number, possibly two hundred, and their obstreperous honking as they plunged into the water dousing us completely and then, almost on cue, going silent and bobbing along the coursing stream, no resistance, no fury. It took my breath away. And then, on the evening before the merger of our two communities into one as the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, I was walking alone on the first floor when suddenly I heard beautiful singing coming from the chapel. The Sisters’ choir was practicing for the next day’s special liturgy. I stood at the bottom of the staircase where I could hear the joy, excitement and sincerity in the voices resonating within the timbers of this house, about to be my new home. And it took my breath away.
This must have been what happened to the disciples and apostles on that first Pentecost. Every astonishing moment they had experienced with Jesus during his mission took their breath away. But those moments were now replaced by a command. The excitement of having been his followers became solemnized; they had to continue the mission. The Spirit now breathed into them. Their breath was now parrhesia, the fruits and gifts of the Spirit for timid men and women, the holy breath behind the preaching of His Name, a preaching everyone could understand in that assembly, that day of the first Pentecost.
When a moment of surreal beauty appears before us, we are suspended in that beauty. We neither hear nor see nor remember anything else; we are embraced by beauty and its meaning. But when it passes we are left to take the moment with us, to make something meaningful of it. Maybe we draw it, or compose a poem, or take a picture, or say a prayer, or make a commitment. We let it work in us and we share it.
That’s what the apostles did on Pentecost. Their once breathless moments were changed into the breathing of the Holy Spirit from which they now preached a new message, a new Gospel, a breaking of bread. We read that this moment, this ecstatic breath was so powerful that everyone in the house and outside heard a “strong driving wind.” The apostles and disciples “began to make bold proclamations as the Spirit prompted them.”
Can you think of a time when something took your breath away? Did you do something about it? Did it change your life in some way? Did you see it as a gift from God?
My friends and Anonymous Angels: Our Jewish friends say that breath is God within us and we must share this God in all we do and say in this life. We Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is in our breath. Do we converse and act as if we truly believe this? God bless each of you with moments of Holy Beauty when your breath is taken away!