For Holy Saturday: Breathing Death, Thousands of Times a Day


It’s Holy Saturday in the Christian season of Lent. It’s on odd day that not a lot of traditions know what to do with. There is so little known about what was happening cosmically or theologically. All we know is that Jesus was dead, silent, and his disciples rested, for it was the Sabbath.

Traditionally, this day is seen as a day of rest. No special services, acts, or practices. Just stop. Be quiet and silent, on this final day of Lent before the Easter celebration. When you take it seriously and follow-through on your practices (which I certainly have not this year), there can be a growing tension throughout Lent. Holy Saturday is the day you can breathe a little.

Breath. Death. Silence. Rest.

That’s what I know of this day.

With that in mind, I would like to turn your attention to this short but powerful video from Frank Ostseski, a speaker and teacher on caring for those at the end of life. This video was sent to us for the End-of-Life Care course which has been the basis of many of my Lent meditations this year. I encourage you to watch it. It’s not long.

It is a powerful and beautiful video. First, for Frank himself. People who make caring for the dying their life’s work just seem to have such a profound connection to themselves and others, and an inner calm and peace. How he speaks and inhabits that space in the video communicates just as much as his words.

But primarily, I am struck by how he speaks of the sacredness and meaning of that little space between the inhale and exhale of each breath. In the video, he uses it to minister to a dying woman; it’s beautiful how that one little space in her breath was such an invitation to her humanity and connection to herself.

Cultures and faiths throughout history have found meaning in the breath and that space. Some even believe that the holy name of God in Judaism, and its curious soft consonants–YHWH–comes from the sounds of breath. The breath is a unique image of divinity. And that little gap between our breathing in and breathing out are a vivid reminder, tens of thousands of times a day, that even that divine life can contains death, silence, and nothingness.

We can use our breath to re-center ourselves if we just allow space for it–even in the midst of the scariest or most stressful moments. Even at the point of death. And that’s because God is the ground, foundation, and basis of our being, and our breathing anchors us into the one who is the sustaining energy of our life.

It is a great gift God has given us. The resources with which to bring a reacquaintance and reconnection with our own selves and souls are not found in symptom management or on the outside, but within us. We hold the resources for our own connectedness, to both ourselves and other.

So on this Holy Saturday, though death reigns and sins rage, can I invite you to simply rest? To stop. Reflect. Look inside. Feel the present moment. See all God has done in Jesus. Feel the Spirit’s Presence.

And most importantly, just breathe.

[image credit: Dorothea Lange, “The Road West, New Mexico“]

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