This Breathless Earth: a new sonnet

The reading set in many churches for this first Sunday of Easter is the account in John 20:19, of how Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room where they were cowering behind locked doors, and how he brought them peace, and breathed on them, saying ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ and sent them out, renewed into the world. Meditating on that scene I have made a new sonnet, voiced for one of the disciples in that room, but written also from our present context where we are all fearful and so many of us are struggling even to draw breath. I am posting the new poem here in case anyone finds it useful, either for a virtual church service on Sunday, or for reflection during the week. Please feel free to reproduce this poem but if you can include a link to this blog that would be great.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘Play’ button.

This Breathless Earth

We bolted every door but even so

We couldn’t catch our breath for very fear:

Fear of their knocking at the gate below,

Fear that they’d find and kill us even here.

Though Mary’s tale had quickened all our hearts

Each fleeting hope just deepens your despair:

The panic grips again, the gasping starts,

The drowning, and the coming up for air.


Then suddenly, a different atmosphere,

A clarity of light, a strange release,

And, all unlooked for, Christ himself was there

Love in his eyes and on his lips, our peace.

So now we breathe again, sent forth, forgiven,

To bring this breathless earth a breath of heaven.


Filed under christianity, Poems

26 responses to “This Breathless Earth: a new sonnet

  1. Thank you. In the strangeness of this Easter season, this is particularly meaningful.
    Wishing you peace and all good,
    (From Michigan USA)

  2. Wonderfully hopeful. Thank you.

  3. eleanor prugh

    a wonderful surprise, a second poem today. Emily I love. She might have loved this poem … in her way. I thank God for your breathing!

  4. Pingback: First Sunday after Easter – St. Helen's Church Choir

  5. Grace Dunn

    You take us into that scene, fearful and gasping for breath but then, Christ is with us breathing new life and equipping us to bring hope. So encouraging!

  6. Sue Goodwin

    Thank you. So evocative.


    Existential fear still abounds in this ancient corner of France. For the plague has been here before many, many moons ago. Shopping for food yesterday donning gloves and a mask, I realized the masks can’t hide the deep fear in peoples eyes, as the death toll rises each and every day. Will this April be the cruelest month? Every month is cruel without Christ as our center.
    O Lord, give me Your eyes to better see, Your ears to better hear, Your mind to better know and Your heart to better understand. Now and forever.
    Yet, there’s solace throughout the day as the many church bells toll the hours across the old town, as if to remind one and all, “Fear not! He is risen!”
    Time and eternity met at the cross and death was defeated for you and for me.
    Today, the promise of April showers is in joyful evidence. Wash all our tears away, Lord! Take our hands and our hearts and lead the way…
    Malcolm, your beautiful, well-crafted poems have helped rub the awful sting away during these sad times…they have filled my soul with His fresh air and radiance. Bless you!

  8. Andrew Scott

    In my stumbling around the intersections of the Web, I was ‘led’ to your page.
    Thank you for a beautiful, inspirational sonnet, full of hope and assurance.

  9. Susan Hutt

    Brilliant. I belong to a Meditation group which continues to ‘meet’ and then we email our thoughts. So on Wednesday morning I was in that room as a disciple. Entering into the gospel accounts (Ignatian meditation) is so powerful as we each imagine how it could’ve been, what they were feeling, the transformation – from fear to joy. Your poem captures the feeling exactly. I shall forward it to the group. They will be blessed like me.

    Many thanks for all your poems. I’ve been reading the Herbert series and have been blessed by them. Once again a huge thanks.

  10. Judith

    Very beautiful Malcolm and itself ‘a change of atmosphere, a clarity of light’ and word and sound (also LOVED your reading of it). Blessings abundant upon you.

  11. I am almost sure that a breath of heaven includes salt air. We are going to go to see the water today, if not walk on the beach. Thank you for helping me to exhale, Malcolm.
    ; )

  12. Pingback: This Breathless Earth: a new sonnet — Malcolm Guite – fAITHwORDSaRT

  13. Quite lovely! I greatly appreciate your generosity in allowing me to share this with my sisters in community, Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. We serve in nine countries and, praise God, all are quite well these days. They will resonate with this sonnet very well. Blessings no you and your ministry!
    Sr. Connie Bach, PHJC
    (Current follower)

  14. Gisela Wielki

    Thank you for your beautiful poem The Breathless Earth.

    The two most powerful acts of breathing occur at birth and death. Ours is a life journey from breathing in to breathing out. I have never been with a newborn taking their first breath. I have been with people taking their last breath, the final exhalation and the unearthly silence that follows when airborne the soul is released from the body. To witness the cessation of life is a breathtaking, awe–inspiring moment. Spirit is embedded in the word “inspire.”

    At present, the world is confronted with a virus that attacks the respiratory system not only of individuals but of humanity as a whole. It is airborne and reeks havoc in the act of breathing in and breathing out. It attacks the lungs, the organs that relate in a most intimate and contradictory fashion with our fellow human beings. It is the most social organ with a most antisocial after effect. When in the same space with another person, we cannot help but inhale each other’s breath. But we also happen to poison the environment with our breathing out. The greatest threat is the breath of the other person right now.

    The Greek word “pneuma,” as in pneumonia, has several meanings, air, wind, breath, spirit.
    What is the present state of health of the breath, of the lungs of humanity, of the lungs of the earth? How much is the breath of humanity borne up by the spirit? How much is it weighed down, polluted by material concerns only? How can we enlist the help of the spirit to give us the inspirations needed to heal the lung organ, to heal the breath of the social body of humanity? Where can we find the source to help us create living social forms beyond the maintenance of our physical, material and transient existence? How can we come to breathe in concert with all who seek to affirm and manifest in thought, in word and in deed the reality of the spirit in each and every human being?

    When He breathed his last on the cross, darkness fell upon the whole earth, enveloping it with a thundering silence. But when He appeared on the third day to the disciples as the Risen One, He breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

    The Holy Spirit is the healing spirit, the world physician, the comforter, the counselor. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life the world needs. What a world we could create together when in our breathing in this holy, healing spirit we found one another breathing out together inspired not to take life, but to give life, spirit borne, world transforming life.

    Contemplation by Rev. Gisela Wielki

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