It’s as simple as breathing in and breathing out – respiration. Inhaling and exhaling are so natural and voluntary that we don’t even need to think about them, but they are the very definition of life.
But COVID-19 has forced us to do just that – think about it. Masking our respiration has restricted the oxygen that brings inspiration and life itself to our lungs and our whole bodies as well.
And masking our respiration has restricted the aerosol that emanates from our voices, adding risk to others around us, through both our words and our songs. The well-loved hymn titled “My Life Goes on in Endless Song” asks in its refrain, “How can I keep from singing?” The answer, by wearing a mask!
Please allow me to apply this medical metaphor of respiration to consider effects of these COVID-19 years on the “spirit” (root word of respiration) in our faith communities.
We are called to gather for weekly worship in our faith communities and then to scatter to fulfill callings and vocations in daily life and service to the wider communities. This coming and going is like inhaling and exhaling.
My former Bishop taught that just these two words – “come” and “go” – sum up the gospels. Many other ministers and leaders of their called and sent faith communities have taught, “when the service is ended the service begins.”
In our gathering we receive life and inspiration that comes from holy scriptures, sacred songs, and intercessory prayers for the whole creation. And then we scatter, going forth singing and expressing renewing faith through our words and actions, breathing out good news wherever we intersect with a world filled with innumerable communities.
So, what does this have to say about the ministries of our faith communities? All the faithful are both called and sent, gathered and scattered. In-reach always precedes out-reach, and both are essential for the respiration of faith and life in all.
It is God who breathes life into us and our faith community, and from our first breath to our last, every breath is holy and sacred. As we sing our songs of faith, breath taking and breath control bring the miracle of music and message to life.
Three years ago this fall, my best friend since we were high school classmates died in Montana where he was a recognized and highly respected national leader in health care.
Like the two generations of lung doctors before him in his family, he was a pulmonary specialist who spent his whole career helping patients simply breathe in and breathe out.
I can’t possibly recount how many times I’ve wished he was still here so we could talk about respiration during this coronavirus pandemic. One of our fondest memories of him are gatherings of our families together for Thanksgiving meals years ago.
In coming weeks many faith communities gathering for Thanksgiving, Hannukah and Christmas will be breathing in deeply to give voice to the most important life-giving words and messages known to humanity. I pray our scattering to the four corners of the earth will bring those songs of faith to all.
At Christmas in Christ Chapel on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College, where I was interim chaplain just a few years ago, the largest crowds of the year gather for high inspiration at each of several very inspiring worship services.
I really love this year’s theme, which inspired this EPLN column – “Let Us Go Forth Sing!”
Editor’s note: EPLN contributor Pastor Rod Anderson serves on the EPLN Board of Directors. Anderson is the former senior pastor of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie. If you would like to contribute a faith-based column to EPLN, email firstname.lastname@example.org.