Yahweh, Ruah, and Pneuma
Portions of this essay are taken from a compelling presentation by Rob Bell.
Here are some quantitative facts about breathing from a medical perspective. Each day we take about 26,000 breaths. This equals about 14,000 liters of air. Experts tell us that we are not to breathe from our chest, but from our stomach – yogis are well-versed in this type of breathing, as are those trained in Pilates, meditation workers, midwives leading lamaz, singers, and woodwind and brass musicians. But on any given day, when we’re distracted or stressed or moody or angry or simply not paying attention, we are breathing from our chest, and we are breathing very quickly. We need only be taking 4 to 6 breaths a minute, however most of us take between 16 and 20. It’s most notable that from breathing we get 99 percent of our energy, and yet we only access about 10 to 20 percent of that energy. As an aside, you can always check in with where you are at emotionally, by paying attention to your breath. And now breathing from a spiritual perspective. In the Hebrew Bible the name of God appears 6,000 times. That name is pronounce Yahweh, or Yahveh, although in many traditions the name isn’t even pronounced because it’s considered so sacred, so mysterious; so holy. This name – Yahweh – is essentially 4 letters in Hebrew. We would say Y, H, V, H. In Hebrew, these letters are pronounced Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh. Pronounce these Hebrew letters aloud now wherever you are reading this. These letters function as vowels in the Hebrew language. Rabbis believe that these vowels are breathing sounds and that ultimately, the name of God is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sound of breathing. Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh. Is the name of God the sound of breathing? In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to the disciples behind locked doors and says "Peace Be With You." And then he breathes on them and commands them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus uses the same word for Holy Spirit that is used in Genesis 2:7 when God forms humankind out of the dust of the ground, and breathes into human nostrils the breath of life. The Hebrew word for ‘breath’ is the same as the word for ‘Spirit.’ In Hebrews that word is ‘Ruah’ and Greek, that word is ‘Pneuma.’ The mystery of the Holy Spirit, that gives fruit and gifts, that comes in the rush of a violent, mighty wind, that rests as tongues of fire on believers, that empowers and enlivens the early church; may be as close, and as simple, as breathing. 26,000 times a day. This breath is the foundational element of our lives. When a baby is born, what is the first thing it must do to live? Take a breath. When it is time to die, what is the last thing we will do? Take a breath. When we die, is it because we can’t say the name of God anymore? When you breathe, may you hear the sounds Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh. May you come to see that God is here right now with us all the time. As you slow down, may you become aware that it is in Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh that we live and move and breathe. In this season of the fullness of Power of the Holy Spirit, may you come alive to the already Living Word. Richly, Nikki