The Lord God moulded the man of dust out of clay,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,
and the man came to life. (Genesis 2:7)
My last post investigated the opening chapter of the Bible as a celebration of the creative power of the divine breath. Continuing on this theme, in this post I want to investigate the divine breath as a source of life.
The second chapter of the Bible depicts the Divine as a potter who shapes and moulds the man out of a lump of clay, declaring that humanity is truly a part of this physical world. At the same time, a clay figure is not a person. As much as a clay figure may be shaped to resemble a person, it is not a living breathing person.
The ancients knew that humanity was not just flesh and blood.
There is something more.
According to the ancient writer, that something more is the divine breath which brings life to something as ordinary and mundane as a clay figure. Whether or not you read Genesis 2:7 as asserting that the first human was literally shaped out of a lump of clay by a divine potter, and brought to life through the divine breath is beside the point. What is important, however, is the life-giving power which this passage attributes to the divine breath.
Okay, so if you will indulge me a little, let’s take a brief look at the theme of the divine breath throughout the Bible. The verb emphysaο is used to describe the divine act of blowing in the Greek Old Testament version of Genesis 2:7 (the Septuagint). This same verb, emphysaο, crops up a number of times in the Greek Bible, most notably in Ezekiel 37:9 which again testifies to the life-giving character of the divine breath:
Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath,
Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,
and breathe on these slain, that they may live.
Jesus himself also performs an act of emphysaο in the Gospel of St. John:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed (emphysaο) on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23)
Now, there is so much that could be said about the creative power of forgiveness, and whether or not Jesus’ disciples are said to actually receive “The Holy Spirit” in John 20:21-23, but for now let us note the power of the divine breath to create peace. Within the Christian tradition, The Holy Spirit (literally translated as “holy breath” or “holy wind”) represents the transformative divine presence which produces the virtues which characterise true life, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In John 20:21-23, Jesus re-enacts the creation of the first man discussed earlier. As Jesus breathes on his disciples he identifies them as dead and lifeless, like a clay figurine. Jesus knows that if his disciples are to experience true life, and to find light and peace in their dark chaotic lives, they must first inhale the divine breath.
May we all experience to life-giving power of the divine breath as we move into a new year full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.