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A Labor of Love - a breath at a time

First breath. Last breath. Every breath in between. As I drove to a hospice visit I spoke with another pastor on the phone. She shared how she learned to take deep breaths when she was with those whose labored breathing was indicating the closeness of their death. We spoke of the breathing exercises one learns as expectant parents. Training in breathing not only for the one giving birth also for those who are in the room.

Labored breath. So I took many deep breaths as I approached the entry to the care facility. Beloved child of God, deep breath, you are marked with the cross of Christ, deep breath, and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever. Deep breaths as I made the sign of the cross on her forehead with oil. Along one wall were photos of so many loved ones. It was a labor of love to create this “communion of saints” to surround this beloved child of God as she completed her baptismal journey. Deep breaths. Prayers. Farewells. Silence when there are no words, only the sound of breathing. It’s a labor of love as her family sits and waits, watches and breathes.

The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words to express. When we sing this response as part of the Prayers of the People there is deep comfort in trusting that our prayers are helped by the power of the Spirit.

Romans 8 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

In this Summer of the Spirit * I am looking for and listening for the signs of the Holy Spirit alive and at work in our world. The phone call to calm my heart with my colleague sharing about labored breathing- a sign of the Spirit. Making the connection between breathing during labor when giving birth and breathing as I show up for a commendation of one dying- a God pause and a gift.

As I caught my breath in that conversation I was reminded we don’t have to do any of this alone. The next day, when I received a text that the baptismal journey of this beloved child of God had ended in the early morning hours as her daughters sat with her, I took several deep breaths and offered them up as my prayer. We get to trust that the Spirit intercedes for us.

Sighs too deep for words. The Spirit interceding. For decades now I have been comforted in the deep trust that it is impossible for anyone to ever die alone. The in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit is in each one of us. God with us in every breath. There is no place to be separate from the breath of life- the gift of breath given as birth- God with us in our very last breath. Never alone.

Romans 8 has been one of my go to chapters in the Bible. Reading Romans 8 in the Message was a deep comfort in a particular time of deep despair and disorientation. Life full, children young, husband asleep after very full days of our life with two jobs and two children and so it would be that it was late at night that my sorrow would surface and I would try to “catch my breath”. Over time the comfort came as I would turn on my little reading light and read Romans 8 (and Romans 12 and 1 John). These words worked their way into my heart. Word of God, word of life. The Spirit interceding with sighs too deep for words.

Many verses from Romans are used in our funeral liturgies. Over my years in ministry verses from Romans 8 have been preached upon, referenced, used for comfort and consolation. God’s word is such a gift. They hymn, “God’s Word is Our Great Heritage” goes through my mind. God’s word is a gift when we don’t have words of our own and the way we hear them and learn them in hymns and songs is grace. Song writers, lyricists, musicians over the centuries offer up their labors of love and become the Spirit interceding for us with words of hope, comfort, consolation…

The same day of receiving news of this death we started working out the details for our first baptism on the patio outdoors this Sunday. Another new thing to try, so I take a deep breath. The words of anointing of someone at deaths door spoken this past Sunday are the same words that will be spoken in baptism as a cross is marked on Lily’s forehead this Sunday. Beloved child of God, you are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit, forever.

One of my favorite hymns for baptisms is also one of my favorites for funerals. I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry by John Ylvisaker. Deep breaths as I listen to this song. The words and tune get to walk with us. John Ylvisaker (read more about his life here) was a prolific songwriter whose labor of love resulted in so many wonderful hymns and songs. He brought to life a lot of scripture in his music. He wanted to make songs that were singable so that all could participate.

Here are some of the words from “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry” to walk with you this week.

"I was there to hear your borning cry,

I'll be there when you are old.

I rejoiced the day you were baptized, to see your life unfold

When the evening gently closes in, and you shut your weary eyes,

I'll be there as I have always been with just one more surprise."

"I was there to hear your borning cry,

I'll be there when you are old.

I rejoiced the day you were baptized, to see your life unfold."

Take a moment to "catch your breath". God is with you in every breath you take.

*Over the years I have at times give the Summer a “name”- for fun, for focus, for intention in growing. For 2020 I have invited folks to join my in curiosity of how the Spirit is alive and working in our lives and in our world

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