Posts Tagged ‘the respiration of God’

PSALM 104:24-34, 35b

24 Lord, how manifold are your works!
    In wisdom you have made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
    creeping things innumerable are there,
    living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
    and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27 These all look to you
    to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
    when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
    when you take away their breath, they die
    and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
    and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
    may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
    who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
    Praise the Lord!

One of the great themes of Pentecost is represented in the dynamic metaphors of breath and wind – Hebrew ruach, Greek pneuma, Latin spiritus. The thing about this force is that you can’t see it directly, but only its effects. It’s impossible to grab hold of it or pin it down, though you can “catch” the wind to harness its power. Spirit is elusive, unpredictable, and spontaneous. It might even be dangerous, if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Our terms respiration, perspirationinspiration, expiration and aspiration all derive from this root-word spirit. In the ancient world, breath and wind were not understood scientifically as biological and climatic functions, but rather lent themselves intuitively to mythological representation. The wind on the water and in the trees was pictured as the breath of God moving and animating creation. This wind/breath wasn’t a function but a force in its own right, the creative force of God’s will and purpose.

In this passage, the poet contemplates this generative breath of God filling forms with life and returning to him upon their extinction. All of creation, then, moves according to the rhythm of divine respiration. The Genesis myth recounts the beginnings of humanity, when Adam (whose name is derived from earth or ground, adamah) was fashioned by God like a clay figurine and brought to life only when the Creator breathed his own spirit into the human form.

This metaphor of breathing existence into being is much more embodied than some later ideas in religion, which would separate cosmos and God into natural and supernatural realms. The challenge then would be to devise ways of getting the two together again. In the early traditions, on the other hand, the metaphor of creation and extinction as rhythms in the respiration of God acknowledged the organic connection between them.