Saturday, December 24, 2016

Breath of Heaven - A Christmas Prayer

"How will this be," Mary asked, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

I have wandered many moonless nights, cold and lonely, with a babe inside.
And I wonder what I've done. Holy Father, you have come and chosen me now to carry your son.
I am waiting in a silent prayer. I am frightened by the load I bear. In a world as cold as stone, must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now.
Be with me now.
Breath of Heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, Breath of Heaven.
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness for you are holy, Breath of Heaven.
Do you wonder, as you watch my face, if a wiser one one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am for the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong.
Help me be.
Help me.
Breath of Heaven...


The English word spirit come from the Latin spiritus, which means "breath." In the New Testament, the Greek work pneuma means "breath" or "wind," but when it has the Greek word for "Holy" in front of it, it always refers to the Holy Spirit. So, when we speak to the Spirit, we are speaking to and about the breath of God, the Breath of Heaven.

I was a little surprised this December when I learned that the Chancel Choir at my church, where we usually sing very "proper" and "higher church" music, would be singing on Christmas Eve a piece written by Amy Grant. For those of you who are uninitiated, there has never been a bigger star on the contemporary Christian music front. Not Sandi Patty. Not Michael W. Smith. Not the Imperials. Not Chris Tomlin.

Many of you know that I am from Nashville. If you come close to guessing my age and then do the math, you know generally who was in my circle growing up. No, Amy Grant and I were not friends, but we had many mutual friends. She is a little older than I am. She went to my sister school, and while I am sure that she would not remember me, we were often in the same place at the same time. Look at this picture:
Yes, this is a picture, from my seventh grade annual, of a young, un-made-up Amy Grant, with hair parted down the middle, wearing clogs and leaning on a stool, strumming her guitar and singing in my school assembly program. I doubt she shows this picture to many of her fans these days. From looking at it, there is no real way to guess what Amy was to become. Oh, we all thought Amy was cool, but it is one thing to sing on a high school stage in front of friends; it is another to become who Amy Grant is today.

The song my choir sang tonight at the Christmas Eve service was "Breath of Heaven," which Amy subtitled "Mary's Song." I think there is a lesson here in Amy's picture.

I don't know how old Mary was. Some scholars posit that she was no more than thirteen. That does not seem right to me, as I read her words in Luke 1, but it does not really matter. She may have been the age of one of my children now, but however old she was, she was a backwater Nazarene maiden. If we had a picture of her from her seventh-grade yearbook, there would be no real way to guess what Mary was to become. She was obviously remarkable. And yet, it is one thing to wax poetic with the Magnificat when the glow of the angel's appearance is still fresh on your face; it is another thing to be nine months pregnant, traveling in first century conditions, unmarried, and unwelcome. It is not too much for the song to describe her as frightened, wondering, alone, prayerful.

But the piece we sang ... Amy's song ... Mary's prayer ... is not the prayer of the desperate. It is the prayer of the faithful. She may not know why she was chosen, but she knows that she was chosen. She may not know if a wiser one could have done the job, but she knows that she is doing the job. She may not know where her path will go, but she knows whom she wants on the path with her.

She wants the Holy Spirit. Not some indistinct, namby-pamby sense that the cosmos is somehow behind her. Not a passing interest from a far-off supreme being. No, she is walking with her God, who is present and real, the part of the trinity who is responsible for her pregnancy in the first place. She asks for the one traveling with her to breathe on her with holiness and power, to be the constant reminder of the presence of God. She asks for the Breath of Heaven.

Her prayer is our prayer. Lighten my darkness. Be with me now. Hold me together. Pour over me your holiness, for you are holy.

The prayer is all our prayer. It is not just at Christmas, but maybe it is especially at Christmas that we all feel pain, grief, abandonment, the seeming impossibility of what lies before us. We do not feel like the chosen of God. We feel no more special than a teenage girl in bad shoes and no makeup just doing our best to sing a song.

But still, we offer all we are.

Breath of Heaven, hold me together. Be forever near me.

Breath of Heaven, help me be strong.

Help me be.

Help me.

Breath of Heaven...

Merry Christmas

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