The breath of the Almighty gives me life

Dai Woolridge, Poet and Creative Development Specialist at Bible Society, explores the inspiration behind his spoken word response in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic based on Job 33.4 (NIV), ‘The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.’

Amidst the agony of Job’s reality, Elihu offers a statement that paints a beautiful picture reminiscent of God making Adam in the garden. God formed Adam from the dust.

But to paraphrase fellow poet Joshua Luke Smith, was Adam ‘Fully here? Fully present? Fully human?’ No. Like a car without an engine, like a TV remote without batteries, like an iPad without a charger, he was lifeless … until God breathed into his nostrils.

In Hebrew, a word for breath is ruach and it is the very ruach of God that brings life. We are breathed to life by the author of life.

In this time, we cannot escape the sheer devastation of the coronavirus. It has reminded us of our fragility, and tragically, so many have fought for their final breath. It’s a stark reminder that though we are home to the ruach of God, we are formed from the dust.

One of my poetic responses was inspired by Dylan Thomas’ famous poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ Technically, the poem is fascinating. It’s a closed form of poem called a villanelle, with five three-line stanzas and a final four-line stanza that are all shaped in light of the first three lines. But it is the poem’s depth of emotion that really hits home. Thomas’ words are like a rally cry to his father on his deathbed, to not ‘go gentle into that good night,’ but to ‘rage, rage, against the dying of the light.’

I can relate to Thomas. Seven years ago, I watched my Dad literally on his deathbed, as the light came ever closer. I was helpless as I witnessed more and more gaps between his in and out breaths.

This piece is a homage to Thomas but so much more than that. It’s a poetic response to our current crisis, to give space for lament. It is a plea to those in charge, to use their breath to make wise decisions. It is a pep talk to the courageous frontliners to keep on breathing when they feel overwhelmed. It is a prayer that those fighting for ruach, for breath, to ‘breathe, breathe, against the final breathed out breath.’

Do not breathe lightly into that tight chest

Do not breathe lightly into that tight chest
For those at risk, with aid to ventilate,
Breathe, breathe, against the final breathed out breath

Health advisors putting measures in the mess
Who predict fate but can only estimate,
Do not breathe lightly into that tight chest

Virus lab workers who take swabs and tests
Whose limited test kits they consecrate,
Breathe, breathe, against their final breathed out breath

Grievers who could not lay loved ones to rest
Who mourn from a distance and self-isolate,
They do not breathe lightly into that tight chest

Heroic frontliners and NHS
Who mask up on courage in dire straits,
Breathe, breathe, against their final breathed out breath

And you, vulnerable, and faint who breathe in less
Who know Covid does not discriminate,
I pray – do not breathe lightly into that tight chest
Breathe, breathe, against the final breathed out breath

Dai Woolridge
Poet and Creative Development Specialist


If you have written a poem, story or reflection on life inspired by the Bible during Covid-19 and would like the opportunity to see it featured in the next edition of Word in Action please submit your poem here.

 

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