excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Naked Now
"I cannot emphasize enough the momentous importance of the Jewish revelation of the name of God. It puts the entire nature of our spirituality in correct context and, if it had been followed, could have freed us from much idolatry and arrogance. As we now spell and pronounce it, the word Yahweh. For those speaking Hebrew, it was the Sacred Tetragrammaton YHVH ... It was considered a literally unspeakable word for Jews, and any attempt to know what we were talking about was "in vain" as the commandment said (Exodus 20:7). Instead, they used Elohim or Adonai in speaking or writing. From God's side the divine identity was kept mysterious and unavailable to the mind; when Moses asked for the divinity's name, he got only the phrase that translates something to this effect: "I AM WHO AM ... This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations" (Exodus 3:14-15).
This unspeakability has long been recognized, but we now know it goes even deeper: formally the word was not spoken at all but breathed! Many are convinced that its correct pronunciation is an attempt to replicate and imitate the very sound of inhalation and exhalation. The one thing we do every moment of our lives is therefore to speak the name of God. This makes it our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world.
For some years now, I have taught this to contemplative groups in many countries, and it changes peoples' faith and prayer lives in substantial ways. I remind people that there is no Islamic, Christian, or Jewish way of breathing. There is no American, African, or Asian way of breathing. There is no rich or poor way of breathing. The playing field is utterly leveled. The air of the earth is one and the same air, and this divine wind "blows where it will" (John 3:8) -- which appears to be everywhere. No one and no religion can control this spirit.
When considered in this way, God is suddenly as available and accessible as the very thing we all do constantly --breathe. Exactly as some teachers of prayer always said, "Stay with the breath, attend to your breath": the same breath that was breathed into Adam's nostrils by Yahweh (Genesis 2:7); the very breath that Jesus handed over with trust on the cross (John 19:30) and then breathed on us as shalom, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit all at once (John 20:21-23). And isn't it wonderful that breath, wind, spirit, and air are precisely nothing -- and yet everything? ...."
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I read this chapter from Rohr's book a month or so back, and it's stuck with me. It's changed the way I think about prayer. Breath prayer, specifically, as a practice has a deeper meaning now, thinking about how my very breath is part of that prayer and not something I'm simply doing while I'm praying. But Rohr has also changed the way I think about prayer more generally. Prayer seen in this light is something I do every minute of every day; I speak the name of God in my waking and sleeping and sighing. This somehow makes the act of prayer more intimate. It disrupts this image of myself as an earthy finite being beseeching a distant, celestial, infinite God. I can recite prayers, sing hymns, and write poetry as prayer and as an expression of love and connection to my God; but as beautiful as these expressions may be, they always seem to fall short of what I want to say. And the answer isn't more prayers or better poems, but less. The simplest prayer and the most basic, genuine expression of our longing and devotion to this Great Love is our very breath. I'm reminded of Romans 8:26 (MSG)...
"Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs..."