One of my favorite past times is singing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. In our most recent concert we were singing Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms". There was a particular effect conductor Norm McKenzie was looking for in the word "Alleluia." He wanted an ever so slight break, almost inaudible, between "u" and "ia," but wasn't able to get the chorus to sing it the way he was hearing it. He came to the next rehearsal with an image for us to keep in mind while singing that simple word "Alleluia." He said, "Think of God blowing breath into Adam in Genesis. That's the sense - that's the feeling I want you to have with that pause in Alleluia." We got it! With that image we were able to sing the word as powerfully and effectively as our conductor had hoped.
The concerts are over, but the image of the breath of God remains with me. The same word for "breath" that is used when God breathes life into Adam is used in this Sunday's lesson from the Hebrew Bible, Ezekiel, chapter 37. God simply and quietly breathes life into the dry bones that had come together, and they live!
In the church year, this coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. The reading from Acts tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit: suddenly there was a sound from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind. It's exciting when the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, comes to us in such obvious and powerful ways. The work of the Spirit is unmistakable and people are filled with awe and wonder with the mighty wind and commanding acts of the Holy Spirit.
More often, though, the breath of God comes quietly - barely audible - breathing life into dirt, and into dry bones, that they may live. We all have times in this journey on earth that we feel lifeless -we feel as though our very bones have dried up within us, or we feel like a pile of dirt with no breath in it at all. There are those this day who are wondering how they will find the strength to take just one more step.
It is that breath of God that comes to us when we're not sure we can even breathe on our own, let alone take a step. This breath is almost imperceptible, with barely a pause, but in that quiet way it makes all the difference. The breath of God gives us life. This breath may come so quietly we may not even recognize it as the breath of God. We may simply know that suddenly life is different...better. We have more strength and know that we can take the next step - and the next - and the next. This is the breath that comes to us - not when we deserve it and often not even when we expect it. It was the breath of God that gave us our first breath, and continues to breathe life into us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is even the breath that allows us to sing "Alleluia."