I started this blog as a commentary to celebrate and study the joy of the common, every day, ordinary (B-Flat), things in life. I’ve decided I’d like to write using themes that you, Dear Reader, can suggest. So, here’s the first:
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The very essence of life…
Not just drawing air in, but exhaling it out…
The basis for one of English’s most uplifting words—”inspire,” and all of its derivatives (from the Latin verb “inspirare,” meaning “to breathe”).
According to Genesis 2:7, God literally breathes Adam to life, suggesting that breath is the source of humankind’s creation. References to the breath of God appear numerous times later in the Bible, too. God’s breath can be something that creates abundance of life, fills followers with faith, and symbolizes a holy presence; its power can also wreak havoc, terror, and confusion. All of these aspects were revealed at the first Christian Pentecost, or “The Fiftieth Day” (meaning the Fiftieth Day after Passover).
Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, one of my favorite days in the liturgical calendar. This amazing account of the Holy Spirit being gifted to the disciples is one of the most colorful stories in the Bible (Acts 2). Some Christians are uncomfortable with anything being portrayed as “magical” in the Bible, but I can’t imagine you could call this occurrence anything but miraculous. Along with several other believers, the disciples were gathered in a room, praying, talking, and waiting for the next step God would reveal in the new plan, now that Jesus was no longer on earth to guide them.
God’s plan comes with the primitive elemental forces of air and fire. A rush of violent wind, the breath of God, fills every space and corner in the room. This is no wafting breeze, no gentle zephyr wind you might feel on a morning in June; no, this was like experiencing a raging tornado at close range. Fire in the form of tongues of flame—one of the oldest signs of the presence of the Holy of Holies—appears above the heads of the disciples. It was miraculous, but it was more than likely terrifying as well to all who witnessed it. It seems that God decided to “take the theatrical route” to shake the disciples from out of their current posture of waiting into a more dynamic posture of acting. God’s breath is transformed into the Holy Spirit, roaring through the room, enflaming the disciples and early Christians to begin spreading Jesus’s story to all the ends of the earth.
It is also in this way that breath and flame inspire language, in that the disciples are suddenly able to speak languages that had previously been unknown to them. Language is a give and take of breath, an inhalation and exhalation. It is also listening (taking in), and it is speaking (giving out). Language ignites communication and kindles understanding.
Language is not just spoken, however; language is also written, and was to be vitally present in scripture and in the future teachings of early Christians like the apostle Paul. Paul himself even states that “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
Perhaps some might read the Bible and question Paul’s belief that all of it is inspired by God. If it were truly inspired by God, wouldn’t everything that happens in the Bible be fair? Wouldn’t all the accounts of the gospel match up perfectly with no discrepancies? Wouldn’t all of God’s prophets, disciples, rulers, and kings be fine, upstanding citizens? And what about all the “smiting” God seemed to enjoy doing in the Old Testament?
There is certainly much to ponder in these age-old questions, and the answer may be that there is no answer—none that will entirely satisfy us anyway. In his sermon entitled “Is the Bible Inspired?,” the Rev. Dr. James C. Howell states it this way:
Yes, this is All the Scripture that is inspired. Messy, human, broken, miserably lacking in potential and lackluster in performance. Why would God use such a book? Because God wanted the book to make sense to people like us. Because God wanted to redeem the broken, lackluster and messy. God’s very project to save us was to become one of us, and a poor, no account guy from out in the middle of nowhere who recruited few followers, and those failed him. He was accused of partying too heartily, carousing with the wrong types, then he died a brutal, criminal death, a shameful showing for a sad human being, much less God almighty. This is God’s story, and this is my story and yours. And it really is a stunningly beautiful story.
So let us breathe in the story. Let us feel the mighty wind swirl around us. Let us feel the heat of a holy flame alight above us. Let us even be afraid for a moment or two. Then, let us be divinely inspired by God’s breath to speak of the hope we know is ours to share.
[Please take a moment now and suggest a word for the next blog. Come on—help me out!]