A Time to Clear the Air – Mark Lopez, SJ

Matthew 18:15-20, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time/1st Sunday in the Season of Creation

On this first weekend of the season of creation, let’s begin where many mystics of various faith traditions usually begin – by taking a long, deep breath . . . and by being mindful of how the divine is not only outside and around us, but also within us, like the very air we breathe.The significance of breath and air in sacred scripture is difficult not to see. In the book of Genesis, even before there was light, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”(Gen 1:2). Eventually it is this air that would make all life possible, and that would bring life into the lungs of the first human beings. “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (Gen2:7) In the Jewish tradition, God’s very breath has always been associated with the source of life and I love how even the unspeakable name by which God is known (Y-H-W-H) is composed mainly of aspirated, breathy, consonant sounds. Of course, we remember too that in the New Testament, when Jesus wanted to impart the Holy Spirit to his disciples, he breathed on them. (John 20:22)

More than giving us oxygen to sustain us, wind or air is also what allows fire to be enkindled. As with the burning bush that would be God’s first invitation for his people to fight for freedom from slavery and oppression, or with chariots of fire that would sweep prophets up into the heavens, wind and air, in the biblical tradition, enkindle the passion for justice and the desire toward genuine human liberation and redemption. Both Moses and Elijah, among the greatest of prophets, would be touched by this fire, this zeal for the Holy, that would allow them to courageously call out the hypocrisy of the most powerful leaders of their time. In the resurrection narratives, it would be fire that Jesus stoked on a lonely shore or in the hearts of the faithful that would remind them of his life-giving presence. I can almost imagine Jesus blowing into these flames to keep them alive and making them grow.

What then have we done to this God-given gift of life-giving, passion-enkindling air?

Have we not filled it with soot and smog that makes us sick and unable to breathe, and that makes the earth climate-sick and unable to sustain us? Have our leaders not polluted it with tension and violence, bigotry and hatred, cuss words, slander and lies? Have we not choked and suppressed even the flames that should call us toward the long-overdue social, racial, and ecological justice that we, and God, have dreamed for humanity since the beginning of time?

May this season of creation give us a chance to clear the air, to breathe God’s love into ourselves more deeply, and upon each other more compassionately. May we allow this air to stoke the flames of justice in our hearts. May we commit ourselves more generously to lives we can fittingly offer up in return to our generous and loving creator, the Giver of air.

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