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Tradition & Innovation

Who Can't Breathe? Three Outcries and a Prayer

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
A George Floyd memorial that is painted in blue, yellow, and black on a wall
I. I Can’t Breathe
Again and again,
With gun or choke-hold.
Police have stolen the breath of Black Americans.
The police are not merely police
For they hold a national authority
To use violence on behalf of the nation:
To serve us all, protect us all.
When they subjugate the Black community
They implicate us all,
They make us all Subjugators
And they subjugate us all.
But their misdeeds have stirred
A great Uprising against racism.
We will let no ruler pretend
The protest is the danger.
 
II. We Can’t Breathe
All humanity is choking
From a virus that invades our lungs.
We have left no space for other species
And the virus leaps into our lives.
If our rulers minimize the danger
It becomes still worse
Choking our societies, our jobs, our businesses,
Our democracy. Our lives.
 
III. Earth Can’t Breathe
All life on Earth depends on Interbreathing.
We breathe in what the trees breathe out;
The trees breathe in what we breathe out.
Our Interbreathing is the Breath that keeps all Earth alive.
Our Interbreathing is the very Name we call You,
For YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh
Is the still small voice of simply breathing.
But the Flood of CO2
That we call the “climate crisis”
Chokes our breathing.
Chokes Your Breathing,
All Earth is scorched by burning fossil fuels
And Carbon Pharaohs burn their way to faster wealth.
Earth can’t breathe and Your Name rattles in our throats.
 
IV. A Prayer and a Response
You Who are the Breath of Life,
At Sinai You taught us,
Not to take My Name with an empty heart.
Not to breathe My Name with empty Spirit.
Every breath we take
is Itself Your Name,
Part of that great Breath that is the Holy One.
You Who are the Breath of Life,
Heal us to breathe.
 
I Speak
I Who free you from choking
In the Tight and Narrow Place:
I Who send you Broad Spaces
Where My breath,
My wind, blows free:
No one shall rob you of My Name,
My Breath, My Holy Spirit.
Embody Me!
 
 
Republished with permission from The Shalom Center.

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