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Center for Action and Contemplation
Encountering Reality
Encountering Reality

The Age of Breath

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Jesuit author Patrick Saint-Jean writes of the reality of racism that violates the desire of God:

In Ignatian spirituality, breath symbolizes both God’s Spirit and the continuous gift of life. The breath embodies our ability to connect body and spirit. When breath departs from the body, so does the spirit. In that sense, breath is both universal and utterly unique to the individual….

Breathing testifies to the Divine Presence within each human. This means that when someone robs another human being of breath, they are denying that person’s most essential dignity. Furthermore, they are usurping God’s place. They are claiming a privilege that is not theirs to claim. To deny breath severs the living connections that are meant to unite us with God and one another.…

Every breath is a reminder of God’s presence; every breath affirms the God-given value of each person’s spirit. In other words, the struggle for breath is a sacred struggle. It is an expression of the Holy Breath seeking to find freedom in our world.

During the summer of 2020, as I turned more deeply to the faith tradition I love so much, I learned to breathe as a person who is seeking Christ. I realized that racism’s ongoing refusal to acknowledge Black people as fellow human beings expressed not only disrespect for the Black community but also a disrespect for God and creation…. At the same time, I began to sense that, despite the ugliness of racism that has marred the Age of Breath, God continues to breathe through all things. I believe it was the Divine Breath that fanned the fires of racial protest, calling us around the world to speak out for justice.

Saint-Jean believes the pandemic and racial justice reckonings of 2020 compel us to pay attention to who can breathe, and who cannot.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, breathing was something most white people took for granted. They may have never before realized the breathlessness that so many of us in the Black community experience daily. For centuries, people of color have had to constantly beg for oxygen, even though this is a gift that God grants freely to everyone. But now, in that breathless summer of 2020, whites were also called on to come face to face with the deeper significance of breathing….

Whatever the color of our skin, all of us have experienced the consequences of living in a world that has historically chosen to be unaware of some of its children. For centuries, people of color have been invisibly bleeding on the floor of systemic oppression, gasping for breath, dying from the thirst of repression, and starving from the lack of recognition and dignity. They have been the “least of these” of whom Jesus spoke (Matthew 25:40), those who surprise us by revealing the presence of the suffering Christ in our midst. They challenge us all to be aware of their dignity. They demand that we face what we have become.

Patrick Saint-Jean, The Crucible of Racism: Ignatian Spirituality and the Power of Hope (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 2022), 20, 21–22, 23, 26.

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. We learn from the coyote curiosity and exploration. We also learn curiosity about our own perception and projection onto another being: what is the first thing we think when we see a coyote?

Story from Our Community:  

For a long time, I tried to extricate myself from my evangelical roots because it lacked the cosmology and depth that my spirit longed for. I felt that I fought against the reality of what is. I’ve followed CAC for over 15 years and recently, I have noticed a trend towards mystical metaphysical wisdom that I am so grateful for! In the Daily Meditation on January 8, this phrase struck me: “The only way out and through any dualism, including that between action and contemplation, is a kind of universal forgiveness of reality for being what it is.” —Frances I.

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