Wednesday, May 25, 2011


"Ru'ah" is the Hebrew word for "breath."  You really have to pronounce the "h" at the end as though you have some phlegm in your throat, though.  It's a guttural in Hebrew.  So when you say, "Ru'ah," it should sound lovely until the end when you sound like you're clearing your throat and hacking up a lung.  In Genesis 1:2, we read that when God was creating creation, a "wind from God swept over the face of the waters" (NRSV).  The word there for "wind" is "ru'ah."  So, the word can be translated as wind or breath or, in fact, spirit.  No matter how you translate it, though, you know that God was doing something over the face of the waters.

Anyway, I want to write about breathing today.  Breathing is technically an involuntary action that our bodies take without our consent and without us thinking about it.  We just breathe naturally.  Or, we are supposed to just breathe naturally.

I sometimes have a difficult time breathing.  I go through these weird phases in life when I have a difficult time getting a good, deep breath in.  At one point in college, I went to the ER to get a breathing treatment for what the ER staff called "stress induced asthma."  It was weird and I didn't want to do it again.  Regardless, I still have trouble breathing sometimes.  I am in one of these weird phases right now.  The last time I had one was back in November of 2010: we had a lot of staff shifting at work; one of our clergy was in the hospital; and I was barely seeing my husband because of our busy schedules.  It was stress induced.

And now, I am gearing up at work for summer youth ministry: a few trips, and several crazy days.  At home, we are packing, trying to transition the dogs away from using the doggie door, and trying to keep up with "normal" life (i.e., clean house, clean clothes, cooking, taking care of ourselves, our animals, etc.).  Needless to say, life is a little stressful right now; and I am forgetting to breathe.

Breath is a funny thing.  We are told that taking air into and letting air out of our lungs is an involuntary response, but I beg to differ.  We can hold our breath til we pass out- perhaps some of us have tried this as kids.  We can take shorter, faster breaths and make ourselves hyperventilate.  We can take long, slow, deep breaths and lower our heart rates without really thinking twice about it.  We can even swallow our breath and give ourselves a tummy ache and gas.  But it's not a normal thing to forget to breathe.

When God moves over the face of the water in Genesis, I get the understanding that God is really just living over the water.  The fact that "ru'ah" can be understood as breath, wind, or spirit leads me to believe that God is merely living.  In order for humans to live, we have to breathe- even plants breathe; and I am no biologist, but I am pretty sure that the majority of the animal kingdom has to "breathe" in some form or fashion to be considered alive. 

And our understanding of spirit has to do with what gives us life, not just existence.  I don't want to get into the mind/body dualism argument at this point, but our spirits make us who we are.  We are not merely a shell that is purely physical.  We have emotions and personalities and spiritual lives. 

All this to say, God is living in that breath and wind and spirit.  When we breathe, we are alive.  So, how can I keep forgetting to breathe?  Why do we have times in our lives when we forget how to breathe properly?  Why do we continuously push ourselves to the limits of breath and think that this is acceptable behavior or an appropriate way to live?

I am forgetting to breathe.  I am forgetting to breathe God in.  I am forgetting to breathe God into my life.

Prayer does help this forgetfulness, but it doesn't cure it.  Sitting down in the morning with my journal and prayer book is nice, but it's not the whole solution.  Trusting that God is with me throughout the whole journey is what helps me remember how to breathe.  Knowing that God is by my side, and acknowledging this, is what guides my breath.

In essence, it's too much for me to breathe on my own.  I need God to help me breathe.  This brings a whole new perspective and twist to my understanding of being dependent upon God.

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