History of Hymns: “Breath of God, Breath of Peace”
By Gabriel Edwards
“Breath of God, Breath of Peace” by Adam M.L. Tice
Worship and Song, No. 3145
Breath of God, Breath of peace,
Breath of love, Breath of life,
Breath of justice, Breath of passion,
Breath creating, Breath of healing,
Breath of singing, Breath of praying,
Come upon us,
come restore us,
come inspire us,
Breath of God.*
“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7.
As God breathed life into Adam, God breathes life into all creation. The text in the first stanza of “Breath of God, Breath of peace” allows for all to meditate on the gravity and power of this breath. The children of God are invited to contemplate and celebrate a God that continuously “creates,” “heals,” “restores,” and “inspires.”
Adam M.L. Tice (b. 1979) is a Mennonite hymn writer born in the western Pennsylvania mountains. Throughout his childhood his family moved to Alabama, Oregon, and Indiana where they ultimately settled. Soon after graduating from high school in Elkhart, Indiana, he attended Goshen College, the nearby Mennonite liberal arts school, where he majored in music with an emphasis on composition and minored in Bible and religion. Throughout his years at Goshen he also served as a church musician and choir director. A year after graduating in 2002, Mr. Tice began his coursework at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. It was during his time in seminary that he began writing his first hymn texts. After four years, including a yearlong stint as a puppeteer, he graduated with a Master of Arts in Christian formation with an emphasis on worship.
In 2004, the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada chose Mr. Tice to be a Lovelace Scholar. From 2007 to 2010 he also served as a member of the Society’s Executive Committee. He has led music at many Mennonite and ecumenical events, most notably in 2008 at the Hymn Sing for Peace on the steps of the United States Capitol reflecting pool. In November of 2007, he became the Associate Pastor of Hyattsville Mennonite Church on the outskirts of Washington, DC. After serving for five years, Mr. Tice and his wife Maria moved back to Goshen, Indiana where they currently reside with their son Ezra Daniel Tice.
On the writing of “Breath of God, Breath of Peace” (2004), Adam Tice notes, “When I avoid rhyme and traditional meter, I rely upon other features as a source of structure, particularly repetition.” This abandonment of rhyme and classic meters alongside the vast use of repetition result in the depiction of a boundless God who does not rely on traditional means of poetic construction, portraying a simple God of love, life, and peace. The incorporation of more complex and innovative poetic techniques represents a multifaceted, diverse God.
The second and third stanzas of this hymn use the exact same text as the first with one variation; the title of God is changed from “Breath” to “Word” and “Voice.” These biblical metaphors are employed to paint a unified picture of the Trinity. As mentioned previously, God as Breath alludes to the Holy Spirit breathing life into Adam amidst the creation narrative in Genesis 2:7. God as Word symbolizes Christ, as it makes reference to the famous John 1 scripture, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. . .. ” God as Voice depicts the Creator who speaks the universe into being throughout the creation narrative in Genesis 1.
The beginning of each stanza depicts God with the nouns, “peace,” love,” “life,” “passion,” and “justice” respectively. This changes to a participle at the end of each stanza – “creating,” “healing,” “signing,” and “praying” – signifying that God is active in the world.
While “Breath of God, Breath of peace” is a very recent hymn, composed in 2004, it has already appeared in two hymnal supplements, More Voices (United Church of Canada) and Worship & Song (UMC), as well as appearing in two collections, Adam M. L. Tice’s collection of hymns entitled Woven Into Harmony (2009) and a collection of hymns set to Sally Ann Morris (b. 1952) tunes entitled To Sing the Artist’s Praise (2009). The hymn is most often set to the tune PATTERNS by Sally Ann Morris (b. 1952), one of the most creative and versatile composers of hymn tunes today.
“Breath of God, Breath of peace” evokes an image of a God who is not dormant, but a God that continually “restores” and “inspires” the lives of all people. Just as the text is not bound by traditional poetic meter and rhyme, the Spirit, Son, and Creator, or “Breath, Word, and Voice” are not trapped within the confines of the provincial theological formulae, but are constantly seeking to embrace all humanity.
Gabriel Edwards is a Master of Sacred Music student at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, and studies hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.
*©2009 GIA Publications, Inc., Chicago, IL. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.