Tuesday, January 6, 2015
One word is not enough
For our bulletin this Sunday, the Baptism of our Lord.
Wind. Breath. Spirit. We have three words. Hebrew and Greek (the languages used to write the Bible) have just one. In Hebrew, ruach (ר֫וּחַ) suffices for all three. In Greek, pneuma (πνεῦμα) does the job. We have the three being juggled in today’s lectionary readings, and because we have de-personified nature we lose something of the richness of the image.
Genesis 1:2 “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.” The King James sounds far richer to me, “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
With wind things move. The branches rock back and forth. The waves crash. It sweeps out the old, and brings in something new. Watch a movie, and when something big is about to happen a hidden wind machine gets turned on. The winds of change blow, and we have no control and we have to go along for the ride.
Breath is about as close to the other as we can be. When we are close enough to experience the breath of another, we are in close proximity. A baby cuddled close. A stranger invading our comfort zone. The lingering before and maybe after a first kiss. Breath is something we cannot undo. When called upon, we can even breathe for another and give them the kiss of life. There are few things more deeply involved in the human condition than the breath.
Spirit is ephemeral. We use it to point to the unexplainable. A Spirit moment is something I hear in ministerial circles when we acknowledge that things aligned too perfectly to be coincidence, too exact for us to take any credit for it. When the Spirit is involved, get out of the way. What is about to happen is far greater than our hopes or what we could imagine.
I love the action of wind. I love the intimacy of breath. I love the mystery of spirit. One word would bring about the beauty of action, intimacy and mystery. However, when Jesus leaves the waters of his Baptism, we hear/feel/see the pneuma/ruach of God come down like a dove. Then a voice from heaven: Mark 1:11 "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." I like to hear it that the wind blew, the breath exhaled, the Spirit moved these words. Even then, it does not do it justice. Even one word is not enough.