Breathe on me breath of God, until my heart is pure;
Until with you I will one will, to do and to endure.
Yesterday morning, during our last eucharist service for the week, we sang the hymn “Breathe on Me Breath of God.” The second verse (above) really struck me. Sometimes there is such great theology in our hymns; and herein is some inspiring practical and experiential theology. A few observations from the verse:
1) The entire hymn is an invitation to – or request of – God. Very likely, and in a liturgical sense, the request is addressed to the Holy Spirit, as “breath” in its original Hebrew sense is also “spirit” (e.g. Genesis 1: In the beginning… the “breath” of God was hovering over the waters…)
In this particular verse, the request is for God/Spirit to bring about purity of heart in the singer. As I’ve explored in fits and starts elsewhere in this blog, it is the work and presence of God’s Holy Spirit that brings about interior transformation and purifies the heart!
2) The link between purity of heart and singleness of will – “with you I will one will” – seems an almost direct reference to Soren Kierkegaard’s notion that purity of heart is to “will one thing.” Again, as I’ve bounced around on before on this blog, to will one thing – specifically Jesus Christ – seems to be equivalent to Christ’s encouragement toward “purity of heart.”
3) I was – am – particularly intrigued by the closing phrase, “to do and to endure.” Granted, the words may have originally been chosen primarily because of the rhyme… And yet, these two verbs, linked to “pure heart” are insightful. This notion is still working its way around my mind and heart, but a few initial reactions:
To do – Do seems the most basic of action verbs, like “to be.” In the context of the line, it evokes for me an image of a life constantly lived in communion with God. To live with a God-parallel will; to act and follow in all those means that God has given; to live and love after the example set by Jesus of Nazareth… “To do” evokes for me an active life, where purity of heart is not just known to the possessor, but to all who are witness of that one’s life…
To endure – I really hear this as equivalent to “to persevere.” It could, of course, be understood in its other sense, as a reminder that to live as Christ calls us to will naturally result in some degree of persecution or distress that needs to be endured. As a call to perseverance, however, “to endure” is a reminder that God’s transformation of us (from within) is neither an easy nor instantaneous event. (Perhaps nothing good ever is.) Rather, we have to endure/persevere, in the assurance that God is working to transform / purify our heart…
My ultimate yearning, and search, for purity of heart cannot neglect my “real” life and action in this world. Indeed, the call to be more Christlike is and must be in the contexts I live within.
Nor have I imagined it elsewise! When I contemplate purity of heart, I imagine myself living more wholly (and holy!) in my present. Able to be more patient, loving, kind, generous…*
True purity of heart must be lived. A hear that “wills one will” with God is one that loves – in word and deed, in affect and effect, in stillness and action – steadfastly. Any contemplative life that I may experience is only holy insofar as it wholly influences my day to day living in this world.
*I’m reminded here of a story that was shared this past week. Later in his life St. Francis, after having become disillusioned with the monastic community that he himself had founded and had for a while been voted out of leadership of, was describing “pure joy” to a follower. After several negations (e.g. “were we to convert all pagans the world over, that would not be pure joy”) he was asked to describe what is pure joy. He shared: “when I have been on a long journey, and my sandals are worn and feet are in pain; when trudging through the mud and ice my robe has become threadbare; when the icicles forming on the hem of my robe are cutting into my leg; and I finally reach the door to one of our Franciscan communities in the middle of the night and, knocking, have to rouse the porter, who opens the porthole but refuses to let me in; when I identify myself as Francis and he tells me that I must be insane, and can move down the road to the next community; when that happens, and I can be patient and kind with the porter, that will be pure joy.” (He was describing an actual event that he had experienced.)