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by Neil Hudson
(originally aired on BBC GMR, May 2007)

My father in law is 75 years old and he is waiting for news of when he can start attending a new class he has to enrol in. When I first heard him tell me what the class was for, I have to admit that I found it quite amusing. He has to go to Breathing Classes. He’s in his mid-70s and he needs to go to a class that will teach him to do something that he has been doing every minute of each of those 75 years. Talk about teaching your grandfather to suck eggs.

The reality of course is much more serious. He suffers from emphysema. It’s payback for a lifetime of smoking. Emphysema occurs when the lung tissue loses its elasticity. It means that airflow cannot take place normally. You’re left with shortness of breath and a sickening feeling of being unable to breath normally.

It’s hard for someone else to begin to imagine what this feels like. We never think about breathing until we find it hard to do so – either because of a disease like this, or simply because we find it harder to run upstairs than we used to. Then we are reminded of the huge significance of breathing.

Today, throughout the city, churches will be reminding themselves of the story of Pentecost, the birth of the church. You may remember it being called Whitsuntide. If you’re a certain age, you may remember it as a time when children got new clothes and churches marched through town centres. Times have changed and it’s lost its meaning in a wider culture. But it’s a vital time for Christians.

The Bible teaches that the church was birthed not as a result of a dusty committee, but by the incredible, wild outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One way of describing this Spirit is indicated by realising that the English word ‘Spirit’ is a translation of the Hebrew and Latin words for ‘breath’. The idea is that the church was born when God breathed on them. Of course, looked at one way, this is absolutely ridiculous. Except, many know the feeling of living in situations when it feels like you would love a new breath. A breath that would offer new possibilities, that would bring freedom, that would bring renewal and refreshment. Well in the Bible, that longing for a new fresh breath of air is equated with a longing for God himself. Those early disciples were concerned that when Jesus had been taken from them, they wouldn’t be able to manage without him. But there was a new plan, the presence of God would be with them in a new way.

Is it possible that you can take a deep breath in your life and know some new encouragement, new stamina, new options? Today, Christians will declare today that new life is a reality for those willing to acknowledge their need for Breathing Lessons.

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