I feel fairly certain — as certain as I can feel — that when George Floyd couldn’t breathe, God couldn’t breathe either. What I mean is that George Floyd’s gasping for air was shared by an eternal companion to the universe who, in the words of process theologians, feels the feelings of all living beings. I’m sure Christians can understand. God must have felt George’s gasping not unlike the way God felt the nails as they tore into Jesus’ flesh on the cross. Of course, God feels the nails of hatred as they tear into anyone’s flesh. And the nails may be knees rather than nails.
And yet I also hope that there’s a side of God that kept breathing even as George gasped for air. The Bible speaks of God’s spirit as a breath of life that animates all living beings. Even as God was dying with George, perhaps God kept breathing in the larger web of life. The birds kept singing, children kept playing, cats kept purring, dogs kept barking. And mourners kept crying. Not everyone gasped for air. Not everyone expired. We humans have two lungs. Can God be multi-lunged, too, albeit with an infinite number? Can all living beings be the lungs of God?
But back to the gasping. We are learning to see George’s gasping as, in some sense, our own as well. Perhaps we, too, are running out of air. Catherine Keller points us in this direction in her essay " 'I Can’t Breathe': The whole Earth echoes the cry for justice."
"Call it spiritual. A lot of us practice yoga, or some sort of mindfulness meditation. We know that breath is not some airy metaphor, but the rhythm of life itself. The aching force of “I can’t breathe” can be felt in the pores of your body right now, with each inhalation, each exhalation. Slow them down. Take them deep. You may practice a yoga of world-solidarity with every breath. And in the Western traditions, there lingers still the Hebrew ruach, the Greek pneuma — both ancient words for 'spirit,' which mean first of all 'breath.' The old Holy Ghost comes haunting our politics …. The metaforce of breath inspires and conspires. It can also expire. Is it the 'Breath of Life' itself — the very life of the manifold, mattering lives of the Earth -- that now echoes the cry, 'I can’t breathe'?"
Admittedly, Catherine Keller is not here concerned with the plight of an eternal companion to the world’s suffering. This is one thing I appreciate about her essay. She does not let us off the hook by inviting us to speculate on the nature of a cosmic Love, even if it so happens that the universe is Love’s body. Her focus is on the body itself: this planet, this world, this life, all flesh. She is concerned with the breath of life itself as it inspires our very bodies and the bodies of all living beings. And she notes that it can also expire.
One of her major points in the essay is that if we are to respond to the current situation, we must help advance and, in her words, materialize the breath of life.
"Being human right now will mean embracing the mattering of black lives along with the living matter of our planet. A growing mass of us must be — may already be — learning to hold the intersections, the planetary connections, in consciousness, the knowing-together that fosters a broad enough coalition, and therefore a deep enough transformation."
So I wonder. Might it be the case that, as we develop a broad coalition of knowing-together, a broad coalition in solidarity with life itself, we are simultaneously helping God breathe? And might this recognition inspire some among us to be even more faithful in our integral yoga of solidarity?
I borrow the phrase integral yoga from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. She writes: The yoga of tomorrow is to find the Divine in work and in relation with the world. Catherine Keller and the Mother may seem quite different in many ways. And yet I have a sense they would well agree on this fundamental point. Any yoga for our time, any path, must be for the sake of the material world as a place where the divine, however else understood, is to be found. We find our way into God’s breathing by joining forces with others who are on the side of breathing, too.
The practical way to do this is to build communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, diverse, inclusive, humane to animals, and good for the earth — with no one left behind. This building is part of our practice, our yoga. Only by this yoga, if at all, can we avoid running out of breath.