In Sam Kean’s book, Caesar’s Last Breath: The Epic Story of the Air Around Us, he postulates a particularly heady thesis. He notes that in measuring time: the chances are you have already inhaled some of Julius Caesar’s last breath.
So naturally, and in particular in the season of advent, I turn from Caesar’s death to the moment forty-four years later when Jesus Christ was born. Perhaps a molecule we breathe today will have been on Christ’s breath.
Now, of course, we wear masks to protect ourselves from other people’s breath. I read that birthday celebrations no longer feature blowing out the candles.
We know that in reality it is “the spirit of the times” that most often captures our spirit. In this season of our lives, the spirit of the Holy Days (Holidays) is both ascendant and transcendent. The transcendent message is love.
Love’s fascination compels us to watch over and over again Charles Dickens’s, A Christmas Carol. Or the movie, A Wonderful Life written by Jonathan Coe, starring Jimmy Stewart. There is something to this spirit thing, we reflect, as we wipe a tear from our cheek. Where did that come from? Without countervailing love, the stories would begin and end in darkness.
Time of course speeds on. We are breathless. Too often the spiritual moments evaporate with our breath. Well, maybe we reflect ever so briefly on the spiritual as the future is forced into our windows of thought.
The calendar will soon turn. And it seems that 2021 will eventually give us rest from the irrepressible surge of warnings. But it will not give us rest from the tumultuous world—as new surges replace old ones. Michelle Francl-Donnay observed, “we live balanced on an edge”. Rest is elusive and when it comes is often spiritual.
Since meeting Dr. Francis Collins some years ago, I have been drawn to his willingness to discuss his faith in God in public settings. Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist who discovered the genes associated with a number of diseases and led the Human Genome Project. He is now the Director of the National Institutes of Health.
Scientists, not infrequently, are featured speaking on the ultimate question as if science illuminates the answer. Dr. Collin’s mind does not stop with the natural, his spiritual side also seeks answers. As your thoughts and questions turn to the spiritual in this season of Holy Days, I would invite you to engage Dr. Collins’s thoughts in this Public Broadcasting interview.
On the question of applying reason to faith, Dr. Collins, in the interview, noted: “I don’t believe intellectual argument alone will push someone across that gap, because we are not talking about something which can be measured in the same way that science measures the natural world, and then you decide what is natural truth. This is supernatural truth. And in that regard, the spirit enters into this, not just the mind.”
Breath, whether Caesar’s or Christ’s, is simply an element in the natural world. Dorothy Day reminded us to leave that world, or as she noted, “to leave space to be surprised by God.”
Our interconnectedness, both internal and external, makes it clear that this intangible dimension of our being, our spirit or if you prefer soul, is not the result of impersonal circumstances. Our spirit, the most important seed of our creation, no less than the seeds of the natural world, needs nourishment. My prayer: please help us, Dear God, to spend some time in your world. Lead us into the light.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.