Part 4: Breath, Spirit, and God’s Name

I love the bible.  A part of the journey  though, is learning how to use it, and when to use it.  I think for lots of us, that is one of the earlier steps in the process as we begin to look for something more in our lives, as we realize these places that have spiritally nurtured us are only a first step.

When this stage goes well, we can learn to love the bible more than we ever did.  When we are using it the ways it was intended, when we are not having to stretch and rationalize, we can relax and be influenced in deeper ways than we ever were before.

I don’t look to the bible for scientific facts, for example.  I don’t expect an objective account of history, either.  This mind-blowing collection of stories is incredibly rich in detailing the subjective experience, the inner life of countless people across thousands of years and tens of thousands of miles.

I have found the bible so helpful during this stage of my life.  One of the biggest mistakes I was tempted to make, through this whole thing, was to leave the bible in the churches that are no longer leading me into growth.  I am so glad I brought it with me.

As I have been learning about contemplation, about meditation, about wordless prayer, I have been so excited to find that scripture speaks to these concerns.  There are whole books written about this topic.  I will certainly have some more to say later.  But today, I would like to begin at the beginning.

Last post, I wrote a little bit about the experience of simply sitting.  A powerful thing to do while sitting is bringing the attention to the breath.  Putting attention on the breath helps take attention away from the foolish things that don’t matter.  Putting attention on the breath sends signals to the body about what we are doing.  But maybe the most important thing: putting attention on the breath lines us up with God himself.

According to the book of Genesis, God made the land and then he created rivers.  These rivers flowed through the land, and nourished.  God reached down and  scooped up mud, and breathed into that mud to make the first person.  One of the things I love about this creation story is the way that it speaks to the idea that we are both material and spiritual: We are made up dirt, water and breath.  

In many languages, including Hebrew, (which the Old Testament is written in) there is overlap between words like “spirit” “breath” and “wind.”  The fact that we have divorced the meanings of these words in English separates us from what the original readers of the bible would have known: there is this connection between breath and spirit; they are almost the same thing.

Many Rabbis have made a further connection.  They say that the original sounds in the words which make the name of God are ones which imitate the breath itself.  We capture some of this when we translate this word with the sounds “Yah-way.”  There is no work done with the teeth are tongue on this word; they are sounds we simply make with the breath itself.

The idea is that we come into this world, and the first thing we say when we are taken from our mothers’ wombs is God’s name: we breathe.  And we begin a process of repeating God’s name over and over, millions of times in this life.  And the last thing we do, as we leave this life?  We say God’s name one last time.

What a beautiful and tragic irony.  We spend our lives thinking that we don’t know God’s name.  We have ended other’s lives because we thought we had different names for God.  But all the time, we were saying God’s name, and regardless of our religious affiliation, we were saying the same name for God: it was our breath itself.

The use of a repeated word, a mantra, is a common thing in meditation practice.  Some people choose a name or other word that has meaning.  Others choose one specifically choosen for it’s lack of meaning.

Today, maybe you would like to meditate with a sort-of spin on this idea.  Today, perhaps your mantra to be your breath itself.  With each inhale, with each exhale, realize that you are saying God’s name.  You always have been saying his name.  You always will be saying his name.  Perhaps you will something amazing in the awareness of this fact, as you use God’s name to dismiss the thoughts, and feelings, and distractions that will arise.