Friday, May 26, 2017

The Breath of God

"Holy Wind"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Out here in the desert we rarely get any rain at this time of the year; however, this is a season when the setting of the sun ushers in strong winds the blow throughout the mountain canyons and onto the desert floor. Last evening, I sat outside just as the sun was disappearing behind the western mountains and the winds were so gusty that I thought I would have to come inside. Instead, I planted myself firmly on the ground and deeply breathed into the powerful beauty of those mighty winds.

As I took those deep breaths I was reminded that the ancient Navajo word for breath is holy wind. A more careful rendering of this definition is: The wind of creation that pervades the cosmos. In a very real sense those ancient people understood “God” to be the wind that blows and the air we breathe.

Nowadays, when many people use the word “God” they think of a “man” who lives up in some distant place - a king, a judge, a heavenly father; but if you examine the images “God” in many of the ancient scriptures and teachings throughout most world religions,  “God” is often referred to as The Wind that Blows, The Air We Breathe.  

In the Christian tradition, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared among his disciples as a Holy Spirit, depicted as a powerful wind blowing through the room where the disciples were gathered together and, to this very day, many Christian hymns reflect this scene by referring to the Holy Spirit as the Breath of God. Similarly, in the Hebrew tradition, “God” is often referred to as Ruah: a breath of air, a holy wind, sometimes blowing mightily, sometimes gently whispering. And of course, over the ages, Buddhists have concentrated on awareness of one’s breath as a means of being grounded in and connected to the greater universe.

A while back our local NPR station featured a Ted Talk that has continued to stick with me. The program featured a series of lectures by various scientists who talked about the ecology of the natural world - how all things, all creatures, all people are dynamically interconnected into one living breathing organism.

In one particular segment of the program, a biologist talked about the air we breathe:

Breath does indeed connect us in a very literal way.
Take a breath and as you breathe in, think about what is in your breath.
There, perhaps, is the carbon from the person sitting next to you,
Maybe there’s a little bit of algae from some nearby lake, river or beach.
There may even be some carbon in your breath from ancient dinosaurs,
and there could also be carbon that you are exhaling
that will be in the breath of your great great grandchildren
The air we breathe connects us all the time

Last evening as I breathed in and breathed out while those powerful winds blew through the desert, I realized that I was literally breathing in “God” and breathing back out into “God.”  I was breathing in all that ever was, breathing in everything that is, and breathing back into all that is and ever yet will be. Imagine that: “God” is as intimate to us as the very air we breathe.

I am reminded of something the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, once wrote:

Whoever breathes the most air lives the most life.

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