“Seasons of Love,” one of the iconic songs from the rock musical Rent, sings out: “525,600 minutes…how do you measure, measure a year?” The musical seeks to engage viewers in this question pushing us to view each moment, each minute, each breath through love’s measurements. What if we viewed each of the 525,600 minutes we have/will spend in this 2020 year through the metric of love? Admittedly, it is hard to keep love at the forefront of every moment especially in this year full of challenges we could not imagine this same day back in 2019.
Today I am thinking about measuring not in minutes but in breaths. The average person takes approximately 20,000 breaths a day (according to WebMD). In a year? You take, on average, 7,300,000 breaths. And likely we rarely pay attention to our breathing; we simply take breathing for granted.
As of today, 275,000 + people in the United States have died from COVID-19 in 2020. We have been accustomed to measuring our days by COVID cases and deaths. We know too well that this disease is transmitted through our breath and kills by attacking the lungs thus hindering the ability to breathe. Today – just this day – 5,500,000,000 breaths will never happen in our country because of COVID-19. How do we measure life expunged? In moments no longer shared? In minutes gone forever? In breaths that will not be breathed? In the face of death, the metric is still love. When we lose loved ones, there is simply no way to quantify the loss when measured through love.
Hearts are heavy with personal and communal loss felt because of COVID-19. This reality has been compounded by racial injustice seen and known through George Floyd’s heart-wrenching death cry, “I can’t breathe.” The world watched this summer as Mr. Floyd was pinned down on pavement by Minneapolis police officers with a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. His cry has become the rally cry for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities naming the truth of white supremacy and racism rampant in our institutions and in our lives. How can we even begin to measure the breaths of BIPOC extinguished this year due to racialized violence and trauma?! Again, there is simply no way to quantify the love-loss experienced by so many.
In this Advent season of profound breathlessness, we take up the songs of longing…of pleading to God to come among us. We cry out to God to give us hope, to give us life, to give us mercy, to give us justice, to give breath to our world. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: give us your saving power! Advent among us! Come Now, Breath of God!
Indeed, this is our fervent prayer and testimony today – Come Now, Breath of God – for this is the theme and title of our 41st Annual Advent Vespers. At 7 pm tonight (Friday, December 4), the world premiere of the our Advent Vespers will be made available on YouTube. Due to the reality of COVID-19, it is a virtual experience. Join us as a community as we lament and cry out to God for healing and life in and through the pandemics of racism and COVID-19. Join us as together we experience anew the promise of God that meets us in the throes of suffering with the promise of the Christ-child, the one who is the very breath of God! I offer up this prayer, our centering prayer in the Vespers virtual program, in this moment as we wait for the immeasurable breath and unquantifiable love of our God.
Come Now, O Breath of God,
stir up your power, your pulsating life, and come among us.
From the tumult of this exasperated world
rife with the pandemics of coronavirus and racism,
of climate change and unjust economic systems,
heed our cry for the need of your advent here.
O Come, Emmanuel, into this breathless world, come:
send your mystic breath anew;
give health to every heaving breast
and strength to all on Liberation’s quest.
Rev. Justin Lind-Ayres