Breath and fire

The boy holds a burning ember in his hand. As he blows with a steady stream of breath the ember glows. He can use the fire it to light a candle. This is a picture in which everything is still, the passage of air from his lips is invisible. The boy puffs himself into life before us, then in a moment he will be gone, all will be dark again. While he breathes, there he is before us. Has he sufficient wind in his lungs to light this candle?

In this wonderful painting there is a play between breath and fire/light, timing and visibility. The picture prompts questions about the breath needed for life, and the precarious nearness of spiritual and literal death. Without breath there is no light, no personhood and identity. Without the breath of God there is no life.

The picture is A boy blowing on an ember to light a candle (1570-75) by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos). It is inspired by a lost classical example (Greek) of the same subject. This picture is in Naples, but a similar picture by El Greco can be found in the National Gallery in Edinburgh.

 

 

Your Spirit is fire in us, your breath is power

SEC Eucharistic Prayer IV

 

That is why I would remind you to rekindle the embers of the gracious gift of God, the inner fire that is in you by means of the laying on of my hands.

2 Timothy 1:6, Amplified Bible

Do not let the embers of faith die
Though frosty the hours of night
Do not smother the embers within you
And cover the mem’ry of light.

For that flame you’ve carefully guarded
Will bless you as long as it burns
And all those who merely discard it.
Will long for its gleaming return.

Do not let the embers of faith starve
Though meager the fuel you’ve on hand
Far better to fan the dim coals than
A whole other fire to demand.

For that flame you’ve carefully guarded
Will bless you as long as it burns
And all those who merely discard it.
Will long for its gleaming return.

Do not let the embers of faith fail
By striving to build them alone.
But kindle this bright light in others.
That Christ may our dimness atone.

For that flame you’ve carefully guarded
Will bless you as long as it burns
And all those who merely discard it.
Will long for its gleaming return.

Author unknown