Life and Death and Breath

Prior to beginning my ministry with hospice in 2000, I spent about a year in specialized chaplaincy training. I remember a conversation with one of my colleagues about intubation sustaining life. He remarked that sometimes we prevent God from being God when we artificially create breath for someone without breath. His words were very insightful.

There is a word in the Hebrew Scriptures – “ruach”. The New Testament Greek has a similar word – “pneuma”. Both are usually translated into English as “breath” or spirit”. They are powerful words. When God spoke creation into being in Genesis 1, the “ruach” – spirit – of God was moving over the waters as God spoke creation into being. As the dry bones in the valley in Ezekiel took on flesh and came to life, it was the “ruach” – the breath – that brought the bones to life.

In the New Testament, it is the “pneuma” – spirit – that brought the mighty wind to the Disciples on Pentecost day. In the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, as Jesus’ earthly life end, he utters a cry and gives up his “pneuma” – spirit.

I was there at the birth of both of my children, and I only recently realized how the Spirit of the Creator was present at this holy time. As a child emerges from the safety and security of the womb and enters this world, there is a moment when there is a gasp as the child takes her or his first breath on earth. I have come to believe that this moment of gasping is the life-giving breath of the Spirit of creation entering a new life.

I have sat vigil at many death beds. When death is expected, there is usually a moment when everyone in the room realizes that death has come. At that moment, often those in the room let out a collective gasp as the reality of death sets in. And usually, shortly after death, there is a last peaceful gasp of the one who died which startles those present. The medical profession has a word for it, but I believe that last gasp is the breath of creation leaving the earthly body. It is a holy moment.

In the wonderful diversity of life and death, we are all equally sustained by the Spirit of the creator. Live in the richness of the breath of God.


Pastor Vince Marolla has worked with Beacon of Hope Hospice in Galesburg since 2013. You can see him around Galesburg playing tuba in a number of ensembles, or on some Sundays, preaching at area Churches.