Nov 20 2011

The Air That We Breathe

Today I’m still thinking about air and how it can play a role in our spiritual lives. In my last post I noted that in both Greek and Hebrew the word for wind also means spirit.  To make things even more interesting, the same words that mean wind and spirit also mean breath.  This, too, has spiritual implications.  In the Genesis 2 account of Creation it says, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (v. 7)  Apart from the giving of God’s breath (spirit, wind) there was no life.  The first man may have had a body prior to this but not life.  It is God who imparts life and that life was given in God’s breath.  

Everyone knows that we must have air to breathe in order to live.  Without air we suffocate and die.  Air is an essential element for life.  Those who affirm God as the Creator of the earth can easily see how the air we breathe and that sustains us may be viewed as a metaphor for God.  Through His breath God gives us life.  Through His breath we are sustained.  As we breathe air into our lungs we receive life from God, we take in His very Spirit.

It is certainly worth noting that the same air that gives life to and sustains humans also gives life to and sustains the rest of Creation.  The animals that inhabit this planet with us breathe the same air we do.  The plants, likewise, take in and benefit from the very same air.  This is not only a reminder of our commonality with all other living things but also of the fact that all life comes from God and is sustained by Him.

After being told that the world is still being created, and that is it Christ who is reaching his fulfillment in it, Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “When I heard and understood that saying, I looked around and saw, as though in an ecstasy, that through all nature I was immersed in God.  God is everywhere…  Every breath that passes through me, envelops me, or captivates me, emanates, without any doubt, from the heart of God; like a subtle and essential energy, it transmits the pulsations of God’s will.”

We should be thankful for every breath we take.  Each gulp of air is a gift from God and an extension of God.  Every breath is a reminder that God desires for us to enjoy life and to enjoy Him.  I cannot help but believe that this has been His intention from the beginning.  The wind we feel and the air we breathe are perpetual reminders of God’s goodness and love.  For these ongoing reminders let us all give thanks. 

Understanding the connection between God and air might also serve as a motivator for us all to work harder for clean air standards.  It is obvious from Scripture that air is meant to give life, not harm it.  We have theological as well as health reasons for working hard to curtail air pollution and its harmful effects.  It is painful to think that something that is associated with God and life has come to be so polluted.  That is certainly not what God intended.  God’s breath, God’s air, is meant to be life giving, just as it was for the first human long ago in the Garden of Eden.


(I photographed the sandhill crane at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico.  I captured the middle image at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado.  I took the bottom image at Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia.)

Nov 16 2011

A Feather on the Breath of God

Over the past few days I’ve been reading a delightful book called Water, Wind, Earth & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements by Christine Valters Paintner.  As you can tell from the title, the book explores ways that the traditional four elements of nature can be used to enhance our prayer lives.  I have only read thus far the section on “wind” but I am finding this book to be filled with lots of useful information and suggestions.  I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve found helpful.

To begin with, Paintner says “The metaphor of air or wind offers us a variety of ways to understand our experience of God: as life-breath, as inspiration, as enlivener, as directional guide, as powerful force, or as the current that supports flight.”  She also says, “The element of wind invites us to ‘open our souls to Being,’ which means opening ourselves to a God who flows in directions we cannot predict.  This element invites us to a radical posture of surrender in releasing our hold on our plans and making room for God to blow us in the most life-giving direction.  As a metaphor for God wind reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways.  The invitation of wind requires of us a detachment from our own longing to control the direction of our lives and a simultaneous surrender to Spirit to allow ourselves to be carried to places of growth and newness.”

I remember from my studies of Greek and Hebrew that both languages use the same word for both “wind” and “spirit.”  I have not, however, given that much thought to how we might use the wind or air we experience on a daily basis to make us more mindful of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives each day.  We actually have a chance with each breath we take to be reminded of the Spirit that sustains guides and nourishes us.  In meditation people are encouraged to pay close attention to their breathing.  This makes perfect sense.

I found the following suggestion by Paintner to be particularly helpful.  “Begin each day by intentionally setting aside your plans and offering a prayer asking for direction from the flow of the Spirit present in the wind.  Notice during the day where this guidance wants to take you.”  This is a simple practice that could have a profound impact on our lives.  We might envision ourselves as “a feather on the breath of God,” as Hildegard of Bingen once suggested, and then seek throughout the day to allow God’s Spirit, God’s Wind, to move us wherever God thinks best.  Jesus once told a man named Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)    I encourage you to ponder anew the words of Christ and to offer a prayer that you will be as open to the movement of God in your life as a feather is to the sometimes gentle and sometimes forceful prompting of the wind. 


(The top two pictures are intentional blurs taken to illustrate the movement of the wind.  I chose the bottom image to symbolize how we never know where the wind or God will lead us.)

Editor’s Note: Rob’s father passed away a couple of days ago.  Please remember he and his family in your prayers.