As kids, we called it “getting the wind knocked out of you.” It happened because you jumped out of a swing at the highest point of its arc and landed, full-body, onto the earth. Or you fell off the roof of a backyard shed while playing Fort Apache. Or you collided with someone else while playing football or basketball or baseball. Kids collided a lot back then—and not because they were staring at smartphones!
Besides the pain of impact, there was a sudden fear of not being able to breathe. The first time is the worst. You don’t know what’s wrong; you cannot fix it yourself, and there is no parent is in sight. Most of us learned from an older kid to take short, little breaths.
As kids, we called it “getting the wind knocked out of you.”
I am not sure if our bodies grow out of the childhood malady or we simply stop doing the sort of crazy things that kids do.
Adults, though, have a spiritual experience that is a lot like getting the wind knocked out of you. It happens like this: On a given day you are busy with the things that typically occupy your days. You are the industrious woman of Proverbs, mastering the 21st-century equivalent of distaff and spindle, namely, smartphone and SUV. You know what the Lord—or life itself—has asked of you, and you are busy with your responsibilities.
Then, without warning, suddenly you cannot explain to yourself why you live your life the way that you do. You cannot even understand what you’re doing on that day because the spiritual wind has been knocked out of you. This is not the result of some terrible calamity like a diagnosis or a divorce. It is more akin to a midlife crisis but one situated within a single day.
Caught in the moment, you begin to wonder, maybe I made some terrible mistake or wrong turn, somewhere way back?
Caught in the moment, you begin to wonder, maybe I made some terrible mistake or wrong turn, somewhere way back? What am I doing here? With these people? It is a horrible feeling, especially when “these people” are your spouse and children. You briefly entertain the thought of running away, taking to the open road, but the terror of the great unknown is even worse than the suffocating fear of the moment. Besides, how do you run away from yourself?
You keep on doing whatever it is that you are supposed to do, what everyone expects of you. You fold the laundry; you return your calls; you pick up the kids. You are so very grateful that others cannot see your spiritual panting. You will just push through because you have learned that, like getting the wind knocked out of you, this, too, will pass. You only hope that it will be a long while before it comes on again.
I am not sure what those without faith, without a world of meaning, do at such a juncture. Maybe they shop if they have the money. American life is predicated on the notion that the right purchase can change everything. Some people turn to chemical fixes, which are available in virtually every price range. Opioids were developed to alleviate physical pain. Clearly, people are turning to them to address spiritual maladies.
Those of us who believe are not immune to getting the spiritual wind knocked out of us.
Those of us who believe are not immune to getting the spiritual wind knocked out of us. Scripture calls it “the noonday devil,” this midlife crisis in the middle of the day. I am prone to the affliction in crowded places, like airports. So many people pass by, in sour moods and slovenly clothes. How can God love all of these people? And if God cannot love them, then how can God love me? Then, how can God be God? Then, how can there be a God? And there went my wind!
As horrible as it is in the moment, getting the spiritual wind knocked of you is part of life. It is a reminder that the wind within us, which animates us, is not truly our own. If it were, it could not be so easily knocked out of us. We call the God whose eclipse we experience in such moments the Holy Spirit. Spiritus is Latin for breath, what separates the living from the dead. We take this breath for granted until it is withdrawn. Then we grope in terror.
When the Spirit is knocked out of you, you understand that it was never really yours.
Believers turn to prayer, even if it is half-hearted. And, when you are panting, what more can be expected? And—you know what—it is enough. Small breaths, little tasks and the moment will pass. And we will be the richer for it. Why? Because to see for a terrible, brief moment the meaninglessness of life is to know that the meanings we impose upon our lives are no stronger than we are. They can wobble without even a push!
When the Spirit is knocked out of you, you understand that it was never really yours. That is when you pray, which is a way of resolving to push on, to look for a meaning beyond yourself, beyond your own life. An older church would have called this “making an act of faith.” It is what we must do in order to breathe in the Spirit.
We are all Peter Pans and Wendys when it comes to the spiritual life. We look down, get scared and start to pant. We begin to fall out of the sky. We need to look ahead, to trust and to breathe deeply of the Spirit. Then we can fly again.