Hymn for the day graphic

01 The air we breathe is beauty – Moorsom

© Gordan Jones, used with permission
Chris Moorsom
  1. The air we breathe is beauty
    and joy pervades our duty
    of giving praise to God,
    for plough and pasture shining
    in winter light, defining
    each single tree and down-top wood.

This hymn, written by the Rev. Gordan Jones in the 1980s, has been an inspiration to me on my journey of faith, and even now makes new and fertile connections with life in 2020.

The air people breathe is commonly linked to the spirit of life in a person: as a strong biblical metaphor, it refers to the very spirit of a person, and even the Spirit of God in humankind:

  • Genesis 2.7; ‘then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’
  • John 20.21-22; ‘Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit ….’

In this particular year of Covid-19, these words take on an even more powerful meaning. These last few months of fighting the Corona-virus pandemic have been a time of witnessing many struggling to breathe, and in many cases requiring ventilators to enable sufferers to stay alive. Tragically, for so many this has ended in their death and for those left behind the grief of sudden and unexpected loss of loved ones in difficult circumstances.

Add to this the recent events surrounding the violent murder of George Floyd, where a policeman was shown on video kneeling on his windpipe in spite of his appeals – ‘I can’t breathe’. Those words have become a call to peaceful action to change attitudes and behaviour across many nations, especially in the West. Being able to breathe freely the air of social living is rightly seen as a matter of justice, a call for every person of colour to be equally valued alongside other members of society.

So ‘the air we breathe’ is God’s gift to every human being, and yet too often its quality and beauty is marred by human misuse or abuse, poisoning the atmosphere literally as well as metaphorically.

For many of us this truth has become more evident in recent times: the lockdown of our normal mobile lives has resulted in clearer air and reduced pollution. Combined with a remarkably long period of good weather, this has given us the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of air and the natural environment around us. Many have spoken of hearing birdsong and seeing usually shy creatures re-inhabit towns and cities in ways not normally possible. This has reminded us that how we use the air we breathe is an essential part of our care for creation and our neighbour.

  1. And all the turning seasons
    bring their enchanting reasons
    for God-adoring mirth;
    and in the special nature
    of a many a humble creature
    we touch the living pulse of Earth.

The experience of lockdown over recent weeks has for many given us the opportunity to explore the natural world around our homes more, and to feel our spirits uplifted and restored. As I have said the daily office at home, where my upstairs windows look out on a rural scene of agricultural land, woodland and distant hills, this duty has proved inspiring as I witness the changing colours of crops and trees, and hear the competitive calls of blackbirds and thrushes.

Yet these ‘enchanting reasons for God-adoring mirth’ are easily lost and forgotten. As we resume some kind of ‘new normal’, many are asking if we can find a way to live which allows more space for this touching of the ‘living pulse of Earth’. This of course requires intention, and the prioritising of time and resources. Even if we never fully return to the original concept of the Sabbath, can we find ways to make time in our lives to ‘stop and stare’, and, when we must work or travel, to build into this a proper respect and care for all God’s creatures?

  1. But most of all in people
    around each parish steeple
    God’s lovely grace is known.
    May greed and falsehood never
    their life from God’s life sever,
    nor they their heritage disown.

Verse 3 of this hymn focuses on people – in their capacity to reveal ‘God’s lovely grace’, but also to cut themselves off from God’s life through acts of ego-centric greed and falsehood. The very gift of life, and of freedom to do what we will, is both our privilege and our curse. Too often we are like the proverbial bull in the china shop, ignorant and unwilling to learn from our mistakes until it’s too late. Could this crisis be for us a time to learn some key truths, and to re-calibrate our lives accordingly?

Yet many have discovered in these locally locked down times that the people who live near us (‘around each parish steeple’) do indeed have the capacity to reveal God’s lovely grace, that in meeting each other in the street, in offering help where it’s needed, or in accepting it graciously, in respecting each other by keeping at a safe distance, and in so many other ways, we can acknowledge the infinite value of each person, equally loved as one of God’s children.

Of course, this hymn was written before the advent of the internet. We should not now ignore the value of social media, especially for those feeling isolated and alone, and this will continue to be used as a way of including those who have to remain at home. Yet humans are built to communicate through verbal and body language and the subtle observance of facial and other expressions. So for most, the day we can once more physically meet, share food, hug and kiss those whose lives are most important to us is a day of rejoicing and restoration.

So too the day, when we can physically attend worship, and even more, fully share singing and the sacraments, the peace of Christ, and maybe the laying on of hands, will be one of deep healing and new hope.* Meanwhile, we can keep on offering up our praises through the virtual singing of hymns, and I invite you to try singing this hymn, including its final verse, with the audio recording at the end of this reflection.

As we meet one another in worship and in living, there Christ meets us as ‘our peace and balm’, and breathes his Spirit on us once again. Then he sends us onwards to help build the Kingdom of God:

‘As the Father sent me, so I send you.’

* I write this just before our local benefice begins to restore worship in church, but this will still require us to be socially distanced and wearing facemasks, refrain from any singing, physical sharing of the peace (or refreshments!), and to receive Communion in one kind only.

Hymn: The air we breathe is beauty
Words: Rev. Gordan Jones (d. 2010);
former Rural Dean of Calne, Wiltshire and Vicar of Hilmarton. (Used with permission)

Music: Tune ‘Wiltshire Downs’ © 1989; by the Rev. Canon Christopher Moorsom, then Rector of the United Benefice of Broad Town, Clyffe Pypard and Tockenham (neighbour to Hilmarton).

Recording: at Orchard Studios on 13th July 2019.
Address – Unit 7, High Jarmany Workshops, Barton St. David, Somerton. TA11 6DA

Singers: Cecily and Imogen Moorsom; Sarah King; Bridget Moorsom; Christopher Moorsom; Timothy Moorsom; Miles Quick.

Witshire Downs tune

  1. The air we breathe is beauty
    and joy pervades our duty
    of giving praise to God,
    for plough and pasture shining
    in winter light, defining
    each single tree and down-top wood.
  2. And all the turning seasons
    bring their enchanting reasons
    for God-adoring mirth;
    and in the special nature
    of a many a humble creature
    we touch the living pulse of Earth.
  3. But most of all in people
    around each parish steeple
    God’s lovely grace is known.
    May greed and falsehood never
    their life from God’s life sever,
    nor they their heritage disown.
  4. From congregations singing,
    from towers gladly ringing,
    from workshop, office, farm,
    from all our dwelling-places
    we offer up our praises –
    through Jesus Christ our peace and balm,
    through Jesus Christ our peace and balm.
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