March 24, 2019
The Very Breath of God
I have always been fascinated by the creation stories of Genesis. Genesis 2 presents God as the clay maker fashioning humanity from the humus on the planet. God seems to bend down and after scooping up ha adam from the ha adama, God breathed into the humus and humanity was born. It’s fun to know that adam was created from the ha adama, you get the wordplay when someone reads the Hebrew for you. But it’s even more important to know that humanity was created by the very breath of God. Humanity is complete, raw materials are enlivened when humanity is given a soul. Adam, as we say in English, is best understood as humanity. The word for this breath in Hebrew is ruach. God breathed into the ha adama and Adam became. Most Christians know that the Hebrew word shalom means peace. We also should know ruach, which means breath, wind, spirit. One word that is used in both creation stories is ruach. The spirit, ruach of God, hovered over the primordial soup in Genesis 1 and the ruach, breath of God, was the means of giving life in Genesis 2.
According to the Gospel of John, when Jesus visited with the disciples on Easter evening, he gave them a blessing. He offered them his peace, shalom, and the he breathed upon them and said, receive the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit translated literally from Greek, means holy breath. The Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament are in agreement: we live because God’s breath and Spirit is within us. We hold life sacred because the sacred dwells within us.
Martin Laird author of the book, Into the Silent Land, tells us that God has already found us, in fact, God has never not found us. God has never not found us because God’s ruach dwells within us. You would think that since we are given life by God’s breath, and God dwells within us, that prayer would come to us naturally, that we would be able to flip an inner switch and find deep peace, that we would be able to sit calmly in God’s presence and feel the sacred holy wind, yet many people are frustrated by their prayer life and feel distant from God.
Everybody knows how to dash a tweet off to Heaven. Some of us send long e-mails. We blanket God with a storm of words, and we even often remember to offer a word of honor and phrase of thanksgiving before we get to what is bothering us and what we need. Many of us offer up these missives in masses, and this is good. These prayers of petition land on God’s ears and, even more importantly, shape our interior life, if only for the benefit of getting things off our chest. Yet, as I said, many people report that they wish they could go deeper, and they wish they would leave their times of prayer more at peace and with a little more certainty that there had been some sort of connection. If we could, we might pray more often.
The reason we are reading Martin Laird’s book this Lent, as a congregation, is to help people discover or go deeper into the practice of contemplation or contemplative prayer. In contemplative prayer, we get better at controlling what he calls the wild hawk of our mind, so we can get in touch with the sacred breath, which dwells within us. In prayers of petition and thanksgiving our purpose is to make our feelings known to God. In contemplative prayer our purpose is to quiet our mind so we can listen, and so we can ground ourselves in the sacred. Many people think that because we live in a multimedia world full of cell phones, screens and sounds that it is harder than ever to find this silence, and this could possibly be, but disciples have for millenniums reported that it takes practice to quiet the mind and make room for God.
We are going to experience a brief time of contemplative prayer this morning—together as a congregation. I don’t want to freak anyone out, so we will only go about four minutes.
To prepare for prayer we need to move into a body posture of readiness and many traditions maintain that uncrossing our legs putting both feet on the floor and placing our hands in our laps, while sitting up straight, is a good way to remain open to God. Since it is the 21st century, put away your phone.
Next we have to deal with our racing minds, which could be lingering on a morning conversation, an event of the week, or this afternoon’s plans.
Many people who teach contemplative prayer suggest using a prayer word. Our purpose here is to clear our mind so if you find yourself playing one of your mind tapes repeat your prayer word to help center yourself.
You could say:
Ruach, breath of God
Jesus friend, kind and gentle
Holy Spirit pray in me
Abba God always present
I bless Thee Lord Jesus, help me
Or pick a word or phrase of your own.
Since it is the breath of God, which gave humanity life and Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost after his resurrection, naturally breathing is a part of contemplative prayer. Although Eastern religions also focus on breathing, mindful breathing has been a part of the Christian Contemplative Tradition for at least 1500 years.
There are all kinds of things written about how to do the breathing, to simplify things for our experience this morning, the idea here is to take deeper breaths and to inhale and exhale slower than you normally do. Deep breaths help to calm rioting mind.
You may say your prayer word when you inhale and or when you exhale, or you may say half your phrase on the inhale and half the phrase on the exhale, but slow your breathing and find a rhythm. It is possible that you will find your mind clear even this morning, it is also likely that your mind will start to race again and that is when we return to our deep breaths combined with our prayer phrase.
We are not giving ourselves a grade here, there is no pressure. We pray here together every Sunday, we usually observe two periods of brief silence, we are simply trying out a longer period of silence. The act of trying is faithful and prayerful. And so with breathing and a prayer word, let us enter the silence for a few minutes now. Lord may we find peace as we enter the silence.