A Living, Breathing Light

A Sermon for Sunday Nov. 11, 2012,  Exodus 3:1-8a, Ezekiel 37:1, 4-10, John 1:1-5 (The Voice translation)

“Man’s First Breath”, http://doubtproof.files.wordpress.com

When I was in seminary several years ago, I learned a new way of praying, which I would like to share with you this morning.[1] I invite you to sit comfortably in your seat. Close your eyes. Relax. Let us now center ourselves in the presence of God:

 Take a deep breath in. Take a deep breath out.

Take a deep breath in. Take a deep breath out.

Breathe in God’s mercies.  Breathe out God’s mercies on others.

Breathe in God’s mercies. Breathe out God’s mercies on others…

Truth-telling, wind-blowing, life-giving spirit—we present ourselves now

for your instruction and guidance; breathe your truth among us,

breathe your story of light that shines in the midst of darkness

breathe your story of death and life that our story may be submitted to your will for life. We pray in the name of the risen Christ, a living breathing light among us.[2]  Amen.


Experts say that we take about 26,000 breaths, somewhere around 14,000 liters of air.

And we should breathe from our stomach, taking about 4-6 breaths per minute. But when stressed or in a hurry, we tend to breathe from our chest, taking 16-20 breaths per minute.[3]

From our breathing, we should get 99 percent of our energy. However, most of us only access 10-20 percent. It makes sense when you consider that we are busy all the time!

With everything we’re doing in our lives on a daily basis, when can we ever find the time to stop (or even slow down) and think aboutour breathing?[4]

Maybe this is the perfect time and place to ponder each breath, right here in this sanctuary during worship (or if you are reading this, from wherever you are sitting) 

We have several minutes, and nowhere pressing to be. So what’s the harm in giving it a try? The busy work will still be out there when the service ends.

For now, let’s take a moment to explore the act of breathing from a spiritual perspective. We might discover something remarkable about God and ourselves–an important truth we can carry into our week.

The best place to start is in the beginning

 when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light…

then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”[5]

A wind from God, the Spirit, came over the deep and dark waters of nothingness. And then God spoke light into the darknessand the world was illuminated! 

Afterwards, God, the Spirit, made Adam from the mud and breathed the breath of life into him!

“God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush.” Painting from Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Saint Petersburg

Many lifetimes later, a shepherd named Moses was leading a flock of sheep near the wilderness when…

 the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed… the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ …God said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.’”[6]

 Moses then says to God, “If they ask me who you are, what should I tell them?” And God replies:

I am has sent me to you…Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’

 The name LORD (translated from English to Hebrew) appears in the Bible more than 6,000 times. In the Hebrew language, the name is essentially four letters: Y, H, V, H. But it is pronounced “Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.”

 Author and pastor Rob Bell points out that…

 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 as vowels in the Hebrew language. They believed they were a kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sounds of breathing. Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.[7]

 Based on this insight, it would seem that the name of God is the sound of breathing…

      Yod. Heh. Vav. Heh

 A newborn baby girl takes her first series of breaths…

       Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh

 A beloved pet cat breathes his last breath…

            Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh

 A congregation greets one another by saying  “Peace be with you.”

             Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh

 A friend tells you “There is no God”

             Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh

 In the Bible, breath is synonymous with Spirit/spirit. The Hebrew word is “ruach,” which is to be spoken from the gut. “Ruach.” It is the “ruach” that plays an integral part in the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of God restoring Israel following the nation’s captivity by the Babylonian Empire:

 Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”[8]

“Fire-breathing business man” from Google Images

God the Creator and the Spirit—the ruachcreates, forms, transforms and renews life, all of creation! Fast forward a couple of centuries and the author of The Gospel of John proclaims that not only is God the Creator and Spirit creating life, but so is Christ, the God-breathed flesh and voice:

 Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking. The Voice was and is God. This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator; His speech shaped the entire cosmos. Immersed in the practice of creating, all things that exist were birthed in Him. His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light—a light that thrives in the depths of darkness, blazes through murky bottoms. It cannot and will not be quenched.[9]

 The breath of God the Creator, Spirit and Christ/Word/Voice “filled all things with a living breathing light.” This living breathing light is alive in the ugly, dark, brokenness of the world. 

It cannot be extinguished any more than the living breathing light that brought forth creation from nothingness can be doused. It cannot be smothered any more than the living breathing light that beckons Moses and Ezekiel to bring God’s people to life can be snuffed out.

When we recognize that the triune God, the living breathing lightis within us,

When we breathe in and breathe out the mercies of God, the living breathing light, we suddenly become aware of the thingswe need to let go of in a particular moment—

            the anxiety

            the fear

            the judgment

            the hate

            the prejudice

            the cynicism

 We begin to accept that we are sacred creations who have the divine breath flowing through us.  And we see—maybe for the first time in our lives—that the person who is

             snoring in the pew behind you

             slowly ringing up your groceries

             sitting idly at a green traffic light

             yelling about politicians

 also has the divine breath flowing through them and every person they encounter. “There is a holiness,” says Rob Bell “to the people around us and how you treat them.”[10]

When we breathe in and breathe out the mercies of God, the living breathing light, we realize how vital it is to create more opportunities–

           Two minutes while sitting in 1-85 traffic

           Thirty seconds before the start of a meeting

            Half hour in the backyard looking at the stars

            Five minutes writing a note to a grieving friend

            An hour in Sunday morning worship

“Henri Nouwen” by Br. Robert Lentz, trinitystores.com

 —to be in conversation with God, to be in prayer with God. As the late Christian spiritualist Henri Nouwen once said:

There is probably no image that expresses so well the intimacy with God in prayer as the image of God’s breath. We are like asthmatic people who are cured of their anxiety. The Spirit has taken away our narrowness…and made everything new for us. We receive a new breath, a new freedom, a new life. This new life is the divine life of God.[11]

So let us slow down and pay more attention to the living breathing light that resides within us and sparks us toward a new freedom and a new life.

Let us fully embrace this divine life of God. For it is in Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh that we live and move and breathe and light the way. [12]


[1] “Youth and Young Adult Ministry” taught by Dr. Rodger Nishioka, professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary, 2002-2005.

[2] Prayer adapted from Prayers For A Privileged People “Prayer of Illumination” by Walter Brueggemann. Abingdon Press. 2008.

[3] Although this is common information, the phrasing and inspiration for the concept in this sermon comes from NOOMA “Breathe” 014. Rob Bell. Zondervan Publishing and Flannel Inc. 2006.

[4] Ibid

[5] Genesis 1:1-4, 2:7, New Revised Standard Version, http://bible.oremus.org

 [6] Exodus 3:1-7a, New Revised Standard Version. http://bible.oremus.org

 [7] NOOMA “Breathe” 014. Rob Bell. Zondervan Publishing and Flannel Inc. 2006. Words in italics are my emphasis.

 [8] Ezekiel 37:9. New Revised Standard Version. http://bible.oremus.org

[9] John 1:1-5. The Voice Bible Translation. Ecclesia Bible Society. 2012.  http://hearthevoice.com

 [10] Inspired and adapted from NOOMA “Breathe” 014. Rob Bell. Zondervan Publishing and Flannel Inc. 2006.

[11] Reaching Out: The Three Movements of The Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen. Image Publishing. 1986.

[12] Inspired and adapted from NOOMA “Breathe” 014. Rob Bell. Zondervan Publishing and Flannel Inc. 2006.


2 thoughts on “A Living, Breathing Light”

  1. Interesting article. Thank you.

    To experience and appreciate the “life force” within our breath is the greatest source of personal peace, because living within the conscious feeling of this power will tame our crazy mind and allow us to be who we really are – our true self – in peace and love.

    The gift of breath is everything – the beginning and end of human life. This is not something to be taken for granted, but is a reason, every moment of our life, to feel appreciation and infinite gratitude.


    1. John, thank you for reading and for your insights. You said it beautifully, “living within the conscious feeling of this power will tame our crazy mind and allow us to be who we really are–our true self–in peace and love.” Reminds me of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5.


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