The Air I Breathe

The Air I Breathe

Written by Michael Chanley | Edited by Wyatt Chanley

Growing up in the 80’s, the HIV / AIDS crisis was beginning to unfold. We learned about it in school and through news reports. As an elementary student, what I remember is pretty basic: don’t do drugs, never share needles, don’t have unprotected sex. Even as a fourth grader (yes, that’s when our school had “the talk” with us), this was an easy set of checklists to avoid. 

As I grew up, I never experimented with the types of drugs associated with putting myself at risk. I fell in love and married young. Rose (my wife), and I stayed faithful to one another. As adults we became Christians and, because of our lifestyle, it was simple to avoid becoming a statistic in the AIDS epidemic. Perhaps because of the fear-based sex education in our school system, Rose and I grew up with a sense that sin ultimately unleashes hell on Earth. Which is to say, selfishness destroys life and hurts the people to whom we are closest. 

We did our best to raise our children in the Church. We wanted them to know Christ in a personal way. We did not wait for the school, or media, to teach them right from wrong. Instead, we led them to understand the tremendous risks taken when one chooses to play fast and loose with drugs and sex. However, I don’t think we prepared them well for today’s pandemic. Covid19 is a blight on the world not seen for over a century.

As we struggle to understand this new disease, I wonder about the new community ethic it is unleashing on an entire generation. Everyone I know is in some form of lock-down. If not, they are living in a sort of self-deprecating denial. Here in Louisville, Kentucky, they have even charged police officers to enforce the quarantine of several people known to be infected. These measures, though necessary, feel very draconian.

This new disease, we are learning, is transmitted through normal social interactions. A recent article on CNN quoted a letter from the National Academy of Sciences by Dr. Harvey Fineberg. Fineberg wrote, “results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing.” Simply put: we transmit this virus by talking and breathing.

The cautions from the medical community range from simple to challenging: wash your hands, practice social distancing, stay home, avoid people, and don’t touch your face. That last one is especially challenging. A carrier of the disease may not have symptoms until they’ve infected others; we are told to treat everyone as if they are ill. We are instructed to avoid people outside of our home because they may infect us or we may infect them. We must clean and sanitize everything we bring into our home. Even fast food and groceries are treated as suspects.

HIV travels through the blood and other bodily fluids. Therefore, AIDS could mostly be prevented by avoiding certain behaviors. This new pandemic is not so kind. 

We could be infected by the very air we breathe. 

Christians are familiar with “the air I breathe” being used as an analogy for walking with God. Marie Barnett wrote the famous Christian song Breathe and it immediately captured attention. It includes the lyrics: 

“This is the air I breathe

This is the air I breathe

Your holy presence

Living in me”

This simple and powerful song was covered by Michael W. Smith, Rebecca St. James, Mercy Me, and countless others. It now appears in various church hymnals. 

As a term, the phrase has become a part of the Christian vernacular. Louie Giglio even penned a book with the title “The Air I Breathe.” In it, he advocates for us to make worship a part of our everyday life. On the chance you’ve never heard the term, the concept is this: a relationship with God is as essential as the air we breathe and the follower of Christ should have their soul constantly inclined to Him… we depend on Him as sure as the air we breathe. 

What now do we say of the air we breathe?

Today, the air we breathe could literally be the end of us. Worse, it could harm or kill the people we love most. Covid-19 is communal and it can spread through the air filling our lungs. Unbeknownst to our family and friends, we could be infecting them just by stepping close enough for a handshake or a hug. I think of it every time I kiss my wife. I shudder to think I could literally be the death of her; I’m certain she wonders the same. I dare not visit my mother and other family members who are older and thus more susceptible to this disease.

The air we breathe has become deadly.

In Hebrew, there are two terms used to describe “breath” and they have a range of uses. The Holman Illustrated Bible (HIB) defines it as “Air coming out of or into the body of a living being.” The two terms are Neshamah and Ruach.

Neshamah, is used “in a milder manner to refer to the fact that breath is in all forms of life.” We see it in Genesis when God puts the breath of life into living creatures. It is also used to refer to human breath and as something which can “become weak” and “be taken from a person.”

Ruach includes “the expanded meanings” of “wind and spirit” and “refers more to the psychological idea of breath” related to one’s purpose or will. In the Greek, as it appears in the New Testament Scriptures, it is the word pneauma. In this form, “it is translated primarily as spirit or Holy Spirit.

Additionally, there are several terms and phrases in Hebrew which translate to Breath of Life. Under this entry of the HIB it is explained, “in the Bible God is the source of the breath of life.” He can give life and take it away. We are at His mercy.

Our children now live in a world where disease is potentially spread through the blood and the breath of every single human they will ever meet. Will they grow up to fear social interactions which we have taken for granted? Will they learn to avoid shopping malls and crowded gyms or churches filled with people? Is the best they can hope for to foster friendships online? 

May it never be.

We will get through this. We will rise above it. We will meet together again.

On that day, let us not forget the fear and solitude of this season of isolation. 

Let us remember the giving of life through breath. Jesus, speaking to His disciples in John 20 said “Peace be with you.” … And when he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I imagine Him saying the same to each of us today. 

In His Spirit, we find peace. We find hope. We find love. In all those things, we find a hope for tomorrow which transcends all understanding.

This is the air I breathe.


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