When Times Are Tough – Breathe

breathe_by_sibayakHave you been having the day from hell? The week? The month? The year?

I feel you. I’ve been there.


I believe that G-D is right here with you;

I believe that what is growing is nothing less than the seed of G-D inside you, waiting to be birthed.

G-D, transcending and including everything.

G-D, creating you, breathing you, living in you and AS you.

Loving you with unconditional presence and immediate affection.

Calling you by name;

Inviting you to witness the surprise of your own unfolding.

G-D, Who, when you’re feeling crazy and wanting to crawl out of your own skin, is as close to you as your own breath.

An Invitation to Breathe

deep-breathartIn my main staying-sane practice, centering prayer, my breathing creates a sanctuary – awareness of my breath connects me to awareness of G-D, life, the universe, and everything (with apologies to the late, atheistic Douglas Adams).

This breathing-awareness “tunes my heart to sing Thy praise” – re-keying me in (apologies in advance for the pun) I AMbic pantameter.

Unconditional presence. Just as I AM-ness, without one plea.

Opening the eyes of my heart, I imagine myself participating in the uncreated life of the Godhead, dancing in the joy of G-D-as-community, the shared life of the Trinity. Sometimes (perhaps all-to-seldom) this literally sets me moving and dancing. Most often, I experience it in stillness and relative silence while sitting – relaxed yet alert. The center of the Wheel does not move.

You’ve been traveling at a frenetic pace, n’est–ce pas? Both outward and inward.

I wonder if you could slow down…right now…and breathe. 

Of course you’re already breathing. And I don’t even mean to suggest that you should change one thing about your breathing…about the quality of your breath. Only that you expand your awareness of your breath.

Your are breathing…right now.


You, dear reader, are Breath Itself, breathing through the soft animal of your body.

G-D having an ‘You’ experience.

Breathe and enjoy the simple feeling of being!


soularizeiconIt was 2007; I was in the Bahamas. Ostensibly working. Helping run a ‘learning party,’ SoularizeRough, I know. It was the first time I’d spent time with a teacher whom I’ve come to greatly respect, Richard Rohr.

We’d had just over 100 people out at Soularize that year – not the largest of crowds. Even this number was winnowed down, to 35 or so, for a little after-learning-party retreat we were throwing at a supporter’s massive house. Richard was our retreat-master.

In addition to teaching us the Enneagram and typing many of us himself, he told us a story from a science and spirituality conference he’d attended (this one I think).

There was a presenter there who was a Rabbi and a physicist. This gentleman simply and confidently asserted that the divine name I AM – more specifically, YHWH – mirrors the sound of breathing.

Richard modeled for us what the Rabbi apparently modeled for him – breathing loudly, slowly:

YHHHH (on the in-breath)Breathe B

WHHH (on the out-breath)





The first sound a baby breathes in this life – YHWH.

The last sound a person breathes on their way out – YHWH.


G-D’s name, on humanity’s lips from cradle to grave.

Ruah, holy breath, breathing in and through each beloved child of G-D from start to finish.

Breathing in us, as us.

(Now, is this debatable up and down the line? Of course it is. I don’t know if make that sound when I breathe, or what it would ‘prove’ in any case. But this isn’t a theorem, it’s a poem. It’s an open invitation to experience Divine ubiquity everywhere. And as such, I find it beautiful and moving to consider.)


Richard Rohr is by far not the only person pondering the connections between breath and divinity. To name just one more among many Rob Bell – who’s a big fan of Richard Rohr – ended up making a NOOMA video around this idea called ‘Breathe.’

Rob says – and this is a long quote, but I like how he puts it –

“With all that all of us have going on every day, who actually thinks about their breathing?

Do you ever think about your breath?

Have you ever thought about your breath from a spiritual perspective?

Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5-6 (NIV)

Moses has been walking this land for 40 years. I mean, it isn’t as if the ground all of a sudden became holy. The ground didn’t just change. It’s that Moses becomes aware of it.

Which raises the question for us, ‘Are we standing on holy ground, all the time?’

Passing burning bushes on the left and the right, and because we’re moving too fast and we’re distracted, we miss them.

What do you believe it means to be “standing on holy ground”?

Are we standing on holy ground, all of the time, but are not aware of it?

Moses says to God, ‘What is your name?’

And God responds, ‘Moses, you tell them the LORD sent you.’

Now this name, LORD, if you’re reading it in an English translation of the Bible, the name is spelled capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D.

The name appears in the Bible over 6,000 times.

But it wasn’t originally written in the English language, it was written in the Hebrew language.

And in Hebrew the name is essentially four letters.

We would say Y, H, V, H. But in Hebrew, the letters are pronounced: ‘Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.’

Have you ever thought about God’s name?

Have you ever thought about God’s name being anything different than just a name?

YHWHvayomer od elohim elmoshe ko tomar elbenei yisrael YHVH elohei avoteikhem elohei avraham elohei yitskhak velohei yaakov shelakhani aleikhem zeshemi leolam veze zikhri ledor dor

(Transliterated Hebrew)

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:15 (TNIV)

Some pronounce the name ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Yahveh,’ although in many traditions the name isn’t even pronounced, because it’s considered so sacred, so mysterious, so holy. In fact, the ancient rabbis believed that these letters actually functioned kind of as vowels in the Hebrew language. They believed that they were kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name 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?

If the name of God is the sound of breathing, how does that change the way you view yourself as a living being?

How does it change the way you view others?

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Genesis 2:7 (NKJV)

There’s this paradox at the heart of what it means to be a human being.

We’re fragile and vulnerable, we come from the dust.

And yet at the same time we’ve been breathed into by the creator of the universe.

And this divine breath is in every single human being.

In what ways do you feel fragile and vulnerable?

Are there ways in which you feel sacred and divine?

Do you think it’s possible to feel both ways at the same time?

In the Bible, the word for ‘breath’ is the same word as the word for ‘spirit.’

In the Hebrew language it’s the word ‘ruah,’ in the Greek language, it’s the word ‘pneuma.’

One Scripture says that when God takes away the ‘ruah,’ the breath of all living creatures, then they die and return to dust. But when God sends the ‘ruah,’ the Spirit, they are created.

Breath, Spirit, same word.

If the words for ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ are the same in biblical context, does that affect your view of yourself and others?

When you let God in, when you breathe, what happens is you become aware of all the things you need to leave behind, everything you need to let go of.

If you were to be totally honest about what’s going on inside of you, is there anything you need right now to breathe out?

What do you have that you need to let go of – what do you need to breathe out?

What can you do in your life to make sure you don’t miss that you’re “standing on holy ground”?

One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:6 (NASB)

You are a sacred creation of God. The divine breath is flowing through you, and it’s flowing through the person next to you and it’s flowing through the person next to them.

You are on holy ground. There is a holiness to the people around us and how you treat them.

Jesus said that whatever you do for them, you’ve done for him.

Do you believe God is inherently in every single person?

If so, when we treat someone disrespectfully, does it mean we’re really treating God disrespectfully?

And if we do things with love and care for others, are we inherently doing it for God?

May you come to see that God is here right now with us all of the time.

May you come to see that the ground you are standing on is holy.

And as you slow down, may you become aware that it is in ‘Yod,’ ‘Heh,’ ‘Vav,’ ‘Heh’ – that we live and we move and we breathe.”

Thanks, Rob.


nondualWhen I bring the gift of awareness to my breath, feeling Ruah breathing in me and as me, I find that I feel her embrace. And then – sometimes, in this space of YHWH – the sense of me and Ruah being two distinct entities or ideas or instantiations of Being utterly evaporates – replaced by oneness. Replaced by bliss.

I’ll never forget when I first encountered the idea – it was right there in the Bible. It was in the late 1990s, at Harvester, the Presbyterian church where I sort’ve led worship. I was sitting in the back of their then-tiny upstairs sanctuary, waiting for the worship team to show up I think, when I read John 17 straight through for the first time. Here’s Jesus praying this crazy mystical prayer that would surely be deemed heretical (at least by my fellow PCA-ers) if it Jesus wasn’t recounted as praying it, to his originating Abba: 

That they may be one even as We are…even as You are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us…as You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world…so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. 

 “Just as” –  oneness. No separation.

It’s all summed up in what this breath-name (YHWH) is most commonly translated as: “I AM.” It’s an inherently subversive name, because in speaking it, you can’t help but declare something about yourself even as you’re naming G-D.


(I am?)

(Why, yes!)

Being G-D gets a bad rap in conventional Western religion, does it not?

And I get it.

Besides any dogma or beliefs one way or another, it can be dangerously narcissistic to equate the ‘small self’ ego with G-D; voices like Stuart Davis and Marc Gafni do superb jobs showing the pitfalls of this mis-identification from Buddhist and Jewish vantage points, respectively. But both agree with the most sublime mystics, poets, and sages that there is an element of our selves that transcends fragmented, grasping ego – this true Self is the One and Only in all the universe. 

And further, it delights this Self to incarnate in our myriad forms – to be G-D having a uniquely ‘You’ experience! And G-D having a ‘Me’ experience.

For me as a student of the Way, I recognize this Advent season as one celebrating the Mystery of the Incarnation – G-D’s re-entry and re-affirmation of the world of matter and meaning, of flesh and blood and spit and sinew – of the incalculable pain and glory of human existence as we’re graced by the kiss of Ruah.

As The 14th-century German mystic Meister Eckhart provocatively asked,

What is the good if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 2000 years ago, if I do not give birth to God today? We are all Mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.

As the first-century Apostle Paul would put it, Christ is the firstborn of many sisters and brothers.

As the 19th century priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins told it, Christ plays in ten thousand places.

And as I put it once upon a time, Christ’s incarnation is ubiquitous – his love, promiscuous.

DervishIt’s fitting that in this season, when we celebrate “the true Light that gives light to everyone…coming into the world,” that we honor the common grace given to the spiritual adepts of the monotheistic lineages – Hasids and Kabbalists (Jews), contemplatives and Hesychasts (Christians), and Sufi Dervishes (Muslims) – each have a means of cooperating with grace for the purifying of ego (as in a refiner’s fire), so that True Self and Unique Self might be real-ized, so that our identification with I AM comes from a healthy, vital, and life-giving space. And it all begins with re-membrance of G-D (DaveningEucharistZikhr), and attention to the breath.

Freedom Songs

I invite you now (don’t just bookmark this – why not right now?) to practice this remembrance and breathing –

first toward G-D,

                               then yourself,

                                                           then in the space where G-D and Self are joined in union.

The first ‘song of remembrance’ I offer for your consideration is a bit CCM-ish in sound (as its composer acknowledges), but I find the lyrics inspired:

The Sound of Our Breathing – Jason Gray


Everybody draws their very first breath with Your name upon their lips
Every one of us is born of dust but come alive with heaven’s kiss

The name of God is the sound of our breathing
Hallelujahs rise on the wings of our hearts beating

Breathe in, breathe out, speak it aloud Oh oh, oh oh
The glory surrounds, this is the sound Oh oh, oh oh

Moses bare foot at the burning bush wants to know who spoke to him
The answer is unspeakable like the rush of a gentle wind

The name of God is the sound of our breathing
Hallelujahs rise on the wings of our hearts beating

Breathe in, breathe out, speak it aloud Oh oh, oh oh
The glory surrounds, this is the sound Oh oh, oh oh

In him we live and move and have our being
We speak the name as long as we are breathing

So breathe in
Breathe out…

Doubters and deceivers, skeptics and believers we speak it just the same
From birth to death, every single breath is whispering Your name

(for the full story behind the song, and some other related reflections on YHWH/breath from its author, check this out.)

I AM THAT I AM – Ben Lee

This one is sparse on lyrics, big on feel – let it wash over you.

And finally – as usual – Joseph Arthur nails it:

I AM – Joseph Arthur

You live in a darkness
Made out of your fear
Looking to the future
Never are you here

You are not a person
Nor are what you see
Beyond this world you live in
Beyond your memory

To find out what you really are
You must wake up from this long night

Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am

Your world is in danger
But your world isn’t real
You see what is imagined
Dreaming what you feel

To find out what you really are
You must wake up from this long night

Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am

I Am, I Am, I Am

You are beyond the sun and the stars
You are the ever present light.

Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am
Repeat the words I Am

I Am, I Am, I Am


3 Responses to When Times Are Tough – Breathe

  1. Joe May 10, 2017 at 2:55 am #

    Really great, Mike. Thanks. ; )


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