Just breathe

A night of revelry turned into a nightmare in Itaewon, Seoul on Halloween 2022. The cause of death was asphyxiation, from the crowd crush. Simply put, the victims just couldn’t breathe.

A normal adult breathes 12 to 20 times per minute[1]. Breathing is an activity which we do naturally, automatically, mostly without thinking. Yet in reality it’s a complex motor task that is both voluntary and involuntary[2].  When we are born into this world, we take our first breath. And when we die, we take our last breath. Breathing is essential for life.

Breath appears in the beginning of the bible. In Genesis 1:1 -2, we read of God’s breath.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirt of God was hovering over the waters”

The Hebrew word for “Spirit” is the word Ruach, which can also mean “breath” or “wind”. God breathed creation into existence[3]

Then, in Genesis 2:7,

“The Lord God formed the man from dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.”

God breathed us into being and gave us the breath of life. God’s breath is in us.

God first revealed His sacred name “YHWH” to Moses[4]. If we say YHWH correctly, all we can hear is our own breath, in every inhalation and exhalation. Thus, we knowingly or unknowingly say the name of God in our every breath.[5] By our very act of breathing, we bear the signature of God and testify of His presence and power.

There’s an interesting story in the Bible involving a prophet named Elijah. He had just had a supernatural face-off with the prophets of Baal and witnessed the fire of God fall from heaven. Yet, when he heard that King Ahab and Queen Jezebel wanted to kill him, he panicked.

His fight or flight response kicked in and he just ran for his life. He ran as far as Horeb (also known as Sinai), the mountain of God. He was frightened, anxious and depressed. Then, as he stood on the mountain, a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper[6]. It was in that gentle whisper that Elijah heard the voice of God.

I postulate that as Elijah was on Mount Horeb, he recalled another hero of the faith, the great Prophet Moses, who was also on Mount Horeb many centuries before.

God had revealed himself to Moses as YHWH. Perhaps as Elijah repeated the sacred name YHWH, he too heard his own breath. In natural breathing he began to encounter the supernatural presence of God within his own spirit.

The rhythm of the inner Ruach[7] slowly stilled his soul. His breathing became like a prayer. Then he heard the voice of God clearly and distinctly. A conversation with God ensued and Elijah gained understanding, strength and courage to carry on.

Sometimes life can be a muddle; noisy and confusing. Many voices overload us with data and unknown projections, making us anxious and afraid. We may feel overwhelmed with life, just like Elijah; we may be facing powerful winds of misfortune, earthquakes of loss, fires of pain. We may even feel paralysed with fear.

What do we do? We need to return to this gentle wind, this inner Ruach, return to the source of our being, return to YHWH.

Perhaps in those times we can’t even pray. But we can breathe. Then just breathe.

[1] What is normal respiratory rate based on age. Medical news today

[2] Studies of voluntary and involuntary control of human breathing. neura.edu.au

[3] What do we know about God’s Breath. Crosswalk.com by Reverend Kyle Norman

[4] Exodus 3:14 & 15, Exodus 6:3

[5] Yahweh. Richard Rohr on YouTube. “The consonants used in the spelling of the sacred name Yahweh (YHWH) are in fact the only consonants that if correctly pronounced do not allow you to use your tongue or close your lips. In fact, we know that pronouncing the sacred name was an attempt to imitate and replicate breath – that it was in inhalation and exhalation”.

[6] 1 Kings 19; 1 Kings 19:12. Other interpretations of gentle whisper are “still small voice” (King James), “gentle blowing” (NASB), “gentle breeze” (Contemporary English Version), “gentle air” (Douay Rheims Bible),”sheer silence” (RSV), “soft breath” (the Bible in basic English)

[7] Elijah, God is not in the wind, Wellsprings of Wisdom

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