BEHIND THE MUSIC
A Breath of Fresh Air: The
History of the Song 'Breathe'
-- Marie Barnett didnt consider herself a worship songwriter, although
she had led worship with her husband, John, for years and wrote her own compositions
during her personal worship time. John was the writer, penning what Barnett
terms "tons" of worship music through the years (including "Holy
and Anointed One"). "Hes the worship writer," she explains,
adding, "I never sat down and wrote thinking, This could be sung in
a congregation. It was more between me and the Lord in my bedroom with
the door locked."
But that changed during a Sunday evening service at the Mission Viejo Vineyard
in Southern California. The Barnetts were leading worship as they had done
hundreds of times before, and words to what would become the worship song
"Breathe" just spontaneously came out.
"We had been singing Isnt He by John Wimber,"
Barnett recalls, "and my husband continued to play. I was so enthralled
with Jesus at that moment, thinking I could never live, I could never even
take a breath if I didnt have a word from Him every day, and I heard
those wordsThis is the air I breathe. This is my daily breadand
I started singing them."
Before she knew it, the congregation had joined her. Still, it wasnt
as if Barnett left that night convinced she had a worship hit on her hands.
There had been other spontaneous songs, but she soon realized "Breathe"
was different. "People would come up to me at the grocery store and say,
You know what we were singing on Sunday night? Ive been singing
it all week."
So they began to sing the song regularly in church, and it continued to elicit
a strong response, bringing many to tears. Barnett says even now she can hardly
get through it. "I think the word desperate digs deep into
me," she says by way of explanation. "The longer Im a Christian,
the more desperate I am for God."
Not to mention Barnett was feeling particularly desperate around the time
the words for "Breathe" came to her. A dance teacher by day, Barnetts
boss of 10 years had recently taken his own life, leaving behind a note asking
her to take over the dance studio. "He was very depressed and had just
gone through a divorce and was on all kinds of weird medications and into
New Age thinking," she recalls of the tragic incident. "He even
came to church with me once right before he took his life, and I was like,
Well, what good did that do?" In the end, the event left Barnett with
questions for which there were no answers. And that desperation came out in
Shortly after being written, "Breathe" wound up on Vineyards
Touching the Fathers Heart No. 25 and seemed to be on its
way to finding a broader audience. But if theres one thing Barnett learned
from watching her husbands songwriting career, its that the timing
isnt up to us.
"We recorded the song for Vineyard, and then nothing happened,"
Barnett says. "Not that I thought anything about it, because, to me,
it was just a neat thing the Lord gave to our church." Five years later,
worship leader Brian Doerksen was putting together Vineyards Hungry
and contacted Barnett about including "Breathe." Then came Michael
W. Smiths version on his 2001 release, Worship.
Barnett was driving in her car when she first heard the track playing on
the radio. "I just started bawling. I love that version, because at the
end when hes saying Cry out to Him, its like Oh!
People are worshipping Jesus! Yea!"
Searching on the Internet, a friend of Barnett discovered that Rebecca St.
James was also including "Breathe" on her new project, Worship
More important than who is singing the song is what the song is doing in
the lives of those who hear it.
"One lady came up to me and said she had known the song for a year,
but she couldnt sing it yet because every time they played it in church
shed just start bawling," Barnett recalls. Its a response
she understands all too well. "Im still affected that way. I cant
even sing the words. I love hearing that kind of stuff, to know that God is
Since writing "Breathe," Barnett regularly contributes songs to
the worship time at Vineyard Community Church of Laguna Niguel, the California
church plant where she and her husband lead worship today. And she continues
to run the dance studio as her late boss wished. With more than 600 students
and 20 classes to teach each week, Barnett says the business venture provides
her with plenty of material for her songwriting. And to round out her schedule,
she also teaches at worship conferences, going "wherever people invite
Pick up your copy of Open the Eyes of My Heart, Vol. 1, which features
Marie Barnetts "Breathe" at www.Songs4Worship.com.
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