Excerpt from: The Sound of our Breathing

By Jason Gray

Originally posted at the Rabbit Room

Take a breath and breathe it out.  Do it again, slowly, and try to mean it.  Breathing – of all things maybe we take it most for granted. Do we ever wonder why we are built this way, this soft machine of ours always pumping oxygen in and out?

In sadness, we breathe heavy sighs. In joy, our lungs feel almost like they will burst. In fear we hold our breath and have to be told to breathe slowly to help us calm down. When we’re about to do something hard, we take a deep breath to find our courage.  When I think about it, breathing looks almost like a kind of praying.

I heard a teaching not long ago about the moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God what his name is.  God was gracious enough to answer, and the name he gave is recorded in the original Hebrew as YHWH.

Over time we’ve arbitrarily added an “a” and an “e” in there to get YaHWeH, presumably because we have a preference for vowels. But scholars have noted that the letters YHWH represent breathing sounds, aspirated consonants that in the Hebrew alphabet would be transliterated like this:

Yod, rhymes with “rode”, which we transliterate “Y”
He, rhymes with “say”, which we transliterate “H”
Vav, like “lava”, which we transliterate “V” or “W”
He rhymes with “say”, which we transliterate “H”

A wonderful question rises to excite the imagination: what if the name of God is the sound of breathing?

This is a beautiful thought to me, especially considering that for centuries there have been those who have insisted that the name of God is so holy that we dare not speak it because of how unworthy we are. How generous of God to choose to give himself a name that we can’t help but speak every moment we’re alive. All of us, always, everywhere, waking, sleeping, with the name of God on our lips.

In his Nooma video, Breathe, Rob Bell (a pastor whose obvious gifts of curiosity and a knack for asking provocative questions can get him into trouble) wonders what this means in key moments like when a baby is born – newly arrived on planet earth, must they take their first breath, or rather speak the name of God if they are to be alive here?  On our deathbed, do we breathe our last breath? Or is it that we cease to be alive when the name of God is no longer on our lips?

The most ironic of his questions is also the most beautiful: he wonders about the moment when an atheist friend looks across the table at you and says, “there. is. no. God”.  And of course what you hear is “Yod. He. Vav. He.”

There are few better illustrations of both God’s largesse as well as his humility, his omnipresence as well as his singular intimate presence within each of us.

Breathe in. Breathe out. “He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs… the word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth…” (Romans 8:28, 10:8 The Message)


The Sound Of Our Breathing

Jason Gray, Doug McKelvey, Seth Mosely

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