Imagine that God’s name was not a word; suppose that it could not, in some sense, be said.
Further, imagine that despite this, what if there was a holy person somewhere, who had been saying God’s name? What if this saint had been saying God’s name since the day he was born and he would continue to say God’s name until the day he died?
What if this holy person was you? And also me? And all of us?
For centuries, some people within the Jewish-Christian tradition have believed God’s name is a thing that can not, or should not, be said. Moses seems to be looking for a name from God, after he has his first encounter. Moses worries that when he tries to free his people that they will ask him who sent him. As he generally does, God responds in a way that challenges the assumptions of the question. We often translate the answer that God gives as “I AM!” It seems like Moses is looking for a name and he gets something quite different. (More on that later.)
Some traditions have resisted writing down God’s name. Today, this sometimes manifests in putting a dash in the middle, written something like, “G-d.” Many translations of the bible refer to God as LORD, written in smaller capital letters, as a way to sidestep the naming of our creator.
Rabbis make something of the sounds that made up this name for God. They are not sounds that are made with the teeth or the tongue. They are an imitation of the breath itself. In the modern translation of this name, Yahweh, we get a sense of this. When you say this outloud, it feels like an exhalation.
People smarter than me have affirmed that God’s name is the breath itself.
So we have said this name in our waking and our sleeping. We have said it in our tears and in our deepest joy. We say God’s name, regardless of the place we live, or the religious tradition we identify as our own, over and over and over again.
When we sit in meditation, we bring a special attention to our breath. The idea that we might be putting our attention to saying God’s name… This is pretty amazing to me.
A thing that makes this even better is that the meaning of this breath-name is perhaps more accurately rendered “I Am who I am, I will be who I will be”
It is amazing enough that these statements have a certain meaning to God. He is the only necessary thing in the universe, he is the only unchangeable thing that there is. But even more amazing, “I am who I am, and I will be who I will be” applies to myself in an entirely different way.
I love that I focus on my breath, and in some sense I am saying these things about myself. They are exactly what I want to say as I meditation.
In these words there is a declaration that I am in the present moment. I don’t need to finish the sentence, “I am” when I meditate. I don’t need to say ‘I am rich’ or ‘I am sad’ or ‘I am white’ or even ‘I am meditating.’ The fact that I am, that is quite enough.
And as I sit and breathe, I am longing to get past my ego, my delusions, my fear. I am like Popeye, a bit, when he says that Godly statement ‘I am who I am’ With God, and with Popeye, I am saying ‘Look, this is what you get, this is who I am, and I will stand proud of that.’
Maybe when you meditate today, your breath can be your mantra. It can be like a word used to dismiss intrusive thoughts. Whenever you breathe you are, in some sense, saying God’s name. But when you do it with intent and awareness, it becomes something new.