Dust and Breath

‘Dust and Breath’

“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:26-27

“The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life”

Job 33:4

Found in Genesis 2:4-7

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:4-7

There was a silence when we began. The quiet rise and fall of lungs filling with air, the whispered hush of a breath drawn in and a breath exhaled.

We didn’t begin with a loud bang. We didn’t begin with a “Let there be- and it was so”. We didn’t begin with words at all.

We began with mud.

And breath.

And the intentional heart of God.

Spoken words created everything else in all of creation, but with us, God stood speechless and reached down into mud. He found no words to describe us into being. Just His touch. Personal. Just His breath. Close.

As close as He intended to stay. With us.

God with us.

That was always His plan. The love of us. Our love of Him. Close.

 

When God formed the first human beings into humanity He knelt down into the grit of things and let the cool clay clump between His fingers and cake on His palms. When He created humankind, He got grit under His fingernails and dust around His wrists. His hands got dirty. And He worked. Putting His all into us.

When God’s love lead Him to spill Himself over into mud, to pour His life, His Breath into the mud of us, it got messy. And it would get messier. And into that mess He poured out His grace. The grace of Him. We alone in creation began with grace. Grace that was formed for us before we were formed. Grace came first for us. It always has. Even before our breath.

‘He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.’

2 Timothy 1:9

Grace. Such a small word. So easy to forget.

Every year on Ash Wednesday in many corners of Christendom people receive ashen crosses on their foreheads with words whispered low “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

Dust.

Dirt.

Clay.

Mud.

I don’t think we have trouble remembering we are dust, we humans. Our biggest challenge is recognising that we are more; more than dust, more than mud, more than dirt trod under life’s heels. More.

Dust- our matter, was incidental in our beginnings. It’s not the dust in this story that matters. It’s who leant low to touch it- “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground ..” Genesis 2:4-7

The author of Genesis thought we needed to hear this, know this, somewhere deep within our souls… ‘Then the Lord God formed’…Us! The writer of this story wanted us to hear…to know that no other living being was formed this way, only us. We were formed differently, to be different. We were formed intimately, to be close.

IMGP8714

Adam’s name, the name naming all our beginnings shares it’s root with the same Hebrew word for ‘ground’1 . And in Genesis chapter two this root word is mentioned three times in the lead up to Adam’s first breath. We were formed from the ground up. Genesis couldn’t be clearer. Our physiology, our material moulding, however long it took, for animals and for humans was always the same2. It’s what happens next that makes us different. The substance we are made of is not substantially what makes us human.

Our vessels made of clay carry something more. Dust began us, but the more followed soon after. When God drew close.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Jesus God YHWH

The title ‘The Lord God’ is the English translation of the personal Name of God: YHWH.

Hear it now, whispered- ‘YHWH’, His very name sounds like a whispered breath, a soft exhale. As though His name is His breath, is Him.  And it was not just His breath but this fullness of His name, His likeness, His image that was breathed into us that day; the day that began all days for all humankind. The day He had planned from the beginning, for our beginning, the genesis of us.

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” Genesis 1:26

Leaning low, the Maker of all things breathed into us His own breath, His own life, His own likeness. And we live.

I was there when both my babies, drew their first breath; life sprawling out all infant flailing arms, tiny lungs burning with the filling, tiny arms reaching wildly to be held, to be connected. To be close.

God was there, when the first humans drew their first breath; life sprawling out, lungs burning with the filling. And He was close. As close as breath.  So close. Softly silently exhaling life into our lungs. And the first face the first humans saw was God’s face, and the first breath they breathed was His, their brand new lungs burning with the filling, their new souls awakening to life, learning to be human, learning to be alive. Learning to be close.

The author of Genesis thought we needed to hear this, know this, somewhere deep within our hearts, to know that God Himself breathed into us His ‘breath of life’…to know that no other living being was formed this way, only us.

And it was a giving. A giving of Himself; part of Himself that became the wholeness of us. In breathing life into our lungs God breathed spiritual consciousness into our souls, mystery into our existence and beauty… so much beauty.

YHWH Jesus God

All life comes from Him and is bound together in Him, but it is His own breath that first inflates our lungs large, His own breath that first oxygenates our blood and floods our cells with life. His breath that calls us, whispering our names, awakening our souls. To Him.

Beyond physiology, beyond instinct, beyond understanding, that day we gasp our first breath we are human. Our difference from the animals is not by degree, but by breath.

His breath.

Breathe. Breathe deep today this gift of God: Breath. It has a power of its own, this breathing deep. It calms and cradles, stills and steadies. My mind’s whir and whirl dissipate with every breath I breathe out slow. The-merry-go-round stops, the inner hamster wheel stills, calm returns, life returns, perspective returns. I return.

There is a strange mix of frailty and eternity in breath.

YHWH Jesus God

When I hear the breathing of my children at night, the ebb and flow, the soft and slow exhale, I breathe out too in relieved response. The soft rhythmic resting rise and fall of breath, a lullaby of lungs, emptying and filling long and deep and slow.  The sound of my son breathing deep in slumber salves my soul, my soul which has too often listened, biting lip, to his asthmatic rasp, wheezing thin. My soul that has sat cradling him in emergency rooms praying his breath would remain.

Breath, it can feel so light, so frail in these days that steal our breath away. We know it now too much. This fight to hold onto breath in a world that chokes it out of us.

In Genesis 2:7 the Hebrew word used for breath is נְשָׁמָה néshamah3. It sounds like a whisper, like breath itself, and it is only ever used to describe the life breathed into human beings, not animals. This whispering word means more than a puff of air, or an oxygenated exhale. It means the life of God, it means spiritual understanding, it means conscience.

It means us.

It is His Breath in us passed down as an inheritance to all humanity that gives us understanding, consciousness, the deep and confusing knowledge in our soul that we are more than dust. A spiritual understanding that we find difficult to grasp.

“It is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding” Job 32:8

Understanding is breathed into us and we become a mystery to ourselves. All the wisdom of King Solomon couldn’t plumb the depths of our God-breathed, God-given breath…

“He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

He has set eternity in our hearts because He has set Himself there, His image, His likeness.

His breath.

God YHWH Jesus

But we forget.

How often we forget our breath and treat ourselves like dirt. How often we think that dust is all we are. We wallow in our mud and forget the Breath that brought the mud to life. Breathless, we wheeze for air while strangling it out of ourselves and one another; gasping for the breath that once was us, the grace that once was ours. Suffocating in a breathless world.

And we still crave it in our secret silence like nothing else on earth. This deeper breath. This grace. This love that loves us anyway, though we’re caked in mud. We crave it because we know, somewhere in the ancient recesses of our psyche, it is what we were formed for, what we were given. What we lost. We think. And we reach for it in a thousand broken ways, searching a thousand human faces, looking for the traces of His, the signs of His heart. His heart that loved us anyway. And we stretch ourselves inside out, reaching for love, reaching for connection, reaching for closeness, meaning and fulfilment.

There is a strange mix of frailty and eternity in breath.

Every human being that ever breathed oxygen will one day breathe their last breath through finite lungs. This idea unsettles us because we live our days in a ‘seeing is believing’ world, a world with tangible earth beneath our feet, tangible warmth from the sun on our faces. We live a touchable, measurable, material existence on this earth beneath our feet, in this world we see with eyes, touch with hands and measure with our minds. It touches us. And we it.

But there is always this other touch. Close. As breath. This haunting truth we sense deep in our hearts that our heads cannot contain: this beautiful, ancient world as it is, will one-day outlive us, but it won’t outlast us.

We know, somehow we feel, this ‘seeing is believing’ world as we know it, will one day end.

But we will not.

This world of beauty and pain entwined in time, will one day fade.

But we will not.

Because there is a strange mix of eternity and frailty in our Breath. Which means life does not end with our last breath from our lungs. The matter of us will return to dust, but the substance of us has never been what substantially makes us us.

Breathe deep today, for you are more than dirt, more than dust, more than a sack of cells hung together on bones, you are the Breath of God, and that breath is breathtakingly full of wonder and breath-givingly beautiful. Precious. Honoured. Bewildering. More valuable than a universe of light.

In the beginning of all things, with breath forged into words God created all things.

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth”. Psalm 33:6

And with that same breath He then created us.

And we became a mystery to ourselves.

But here-in lies a greater mystery yet; the same Breath that whispered the Universe into existence, the Being that first breathed our limpness into life, filling our emptiness with fullness, our asphyxiation with air; that Breath once given at the beginning of all things, is now twice given at the beginning of new things.

That same breath that birthed stars into being, then heaved out hard through burning lungs at Calvary, now offers to breathe brand new His Breath in you, and you have the choice to live. New. You have the chance to be. New.

Jesus, giving up His own breath that day long ago on the dusty hill outside Jerusalem purchased for you and me and all humanity once more our inheritance: the renewed Breath of God within us.

The gift of forever.

Jesus God YHWH

When our human breath breathes out its last, as it will someday for everyone of us. And we return to the dust from whence our body was formed; our breath will not end, will not fail, will not fall into the nothingness of air. Our inheritance as human beings is a gift that lasts forever now, not because of anything we have done, but because of everything He has done. A grace given to us from before the beginning of time. A grace re-given once more for all time.

Every year on Ash Wednesday in many corners of Christendom people receive ashen crosses on their foreheads with words whispered low “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

Yes, from dust you came and to dust you will return. But you are more than dust and more than dirt and more than the mud trod beneath your feet. Remember this. Remember it, ponder it long and slow, like a breath drawn in. Hold onto it, like a holding your breath in anticipation, in wonder. Remember this one thing that makes all other things make sense: Dust is only the beginning of you. Not the end.

Hear it gently, like a whisper on the breeze, like a song in your heart: yes, remember you are dust but never forget you are more. Dust began you, but the more follows soon after, when God draws close.

Remember you are breath, and to Breath …YHWY… you shall return.

This beautiful, ancient world as it is will one day outlive you.

But it won’t outlast you.

Just Breathe.

Before you go….

Hello friend,

Just letting you know, this post is part of my Easter/Lenten story series called ‘The Long Walk…’ which is currently running from now until Easter on my other site found at livethelongwalk.com 

If you enjoyed ‘Dust and Breath’ and would be interested in following the rest of the story you can join ‘The Long Walk…’ here

It is all free. No cost no catches. Just the long story of God’s long Walk to find us. 

Blessings,

Liz

IMGP8713

References, Notes and Photo Credits

1 The Hebrew for man (adam) sounds like and is related to the Hebrew for ground (adamah); Blue letter Bible

2 Genesis 2:7 &19

3 T. C. Mitchell, “The Old Testament Usage of Néshama,”  (1961)

All photos of stars and galaxies are used with grateful thanks to the NASA,  ESA STSCI, Hubble Heritage  Team. Use of these images is in the public domain. Hubblesite.org

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s