“Take a deep breath.”
“Don’t hold your breath.”
Breath has power. Do it deeply and it can soothe, heal and relax. Or fight for it, and you’ll experience tension, fear and panic. Breath gives life. The deeper we breathe, the more of life we are able to see and feel. The more of life we are able to live.
He couldn’t catch his breath. The middle-aged man who has been fighting lung cancer for years. He can’t breathe. He has decided that his body is done fighting. He’s tired. No intubation. No more treatments. No more fighting. He is ready to die and wants all the saving measures to stop. He calls the chaplain.
As I pull a chair close to the patient and his wife who are holding hands tightly, the patient shouts, “I confess my sins and proclaim that Jesus Christ is God.” He’s scared. Eyes wide. Looking right into me for an answer, for a release from his panic. This panic is spiritual. Even though the patient’s body is violently working to catch the next physical breath…it’s the Breath of Life that he truly craves and needs. The Breath of God.
I lean into him. I pull my chair closer. I am here. We are going to help you catch your breath. Together. I am not going anywhere. There is no rush.
But there is a rush…there is urgency. Within me. I see his skin turning the color of death. I watch as his chest looks like it is going to give up at any moment. I want this man to get the peace he’s grasping for before he takes his last strained breath. The patient has never been baptized. He wants to be baptized. Cleansed. He wants to invite the Holy Spirit to move mightily in his soul….whatever he’s got to do to “get right with God.”
He is already right with God. God is here…in the room, in our conversation and in the patient. I sense his Presence…his movement…his power. But, it’s about peace. Giving the patient what he needs in order to open himself up to the Divine peace that is already present. The peace will enable a deep breath of relief and of assurance.
It was my first baptism and it was beautiful. We prayed, took communion and he confessed all that was heavy on his heart. We laughed, cried and held hands, expressing love and gratitude for one another. The gravity and intimacy of what we were sharing was felt deeply.
After baptism the man was able to see his family one last time to say goodbye. My next page to the room was hours later, in the middle of the night. The family had left. The patient was deteriorating. They needed the presence of the chaplain. Not that there was anything for me to do. They just needed the calming presence. The reminder of the One who is here in the room with you.
The patient was much worse physically. “Active dying” is what they call it. But, I couldn’t help but notice how light he was emotionally and spiritually. No more anxiety. Less fear. He “just wants to go home,” and we all knew what “home” he was referring to. I say to the patient how great it must have been to have his family come up one last time. He opens his tired eyes, turns his head, looks directly at me and says, “It’s nothing compared to what you did for me.” The wind is knocked out of me. The man who is gasping for his next breath, has now just taken my breath away. My body is paralyzed by the power of his words. The power of his truth. All I could do is reach out and touch his hand. Nothing more needed to be said. I sat with them until the patient was more comfortable. Then, I sensed that these last hours were meant for this couple of 40 years to spend alone.
The patient continued to work hard for his physical breaths, but he did so with more ease because the breath he had caught was sweeter. The baptism, prayer and time of surrender to God helped the patient to take a long, deep breath of God that soothed him spiritually. It was the Divine breath that truly saves. The patient’s inner turmoil was now gone, giving way to the peace that surpasses all understanding. All that was left was for his physical body to adjust and transition to where his spirit now was. Resting in the arms of God…breathing deeply.
Breath is Spirit. The act of breathing is Living. ~Author Unknown