Recently, you may have noticed, I changed the name of this blog to Ruah Rising. It is a phrase that is with me more and more these days, in my prayer life, in the back of my mind, in the way I teach yoga and dance, in my growing understanding of who God is.
Ruah is a Hebrew word, found in the Hebrew Scriptures or what Catholics used to call the Old Testament. In one word it conveys multiple meanings, as is the case for so many words in the ancient, earthy, inclusive languages of the Jewish people. Ruah means Spirit and it also means Breath. Moreover, it is a distinctly feminine word. It was used by the ancient Jews to talk about the constant, enlivening, indwelling spirit of God blowing where She wills and filling Her people with life, hope, longing and grace.
Meaning breath as well as spirit, ruah (or ruach) makes the connection that God is as close as our breath, inhabiting and enlivening us as our very inhale does. This connection becomes even more poignant in light of our current biological understanding of the breath—how the breath oxygenates our blood, carried by the heart throughout our entire body, very literally enlivening our being. Without food we can live for about a month. Without water about a week. But without breath we can continue to function for only around 6 minutes.
I love the word ruah because it speaks to the feminine side of God, but mostly because it speaks to a spirituality that is about our bodies, our well-being, our actual living, breathing lives. It brings home that God is not some idea, out there, a disembodied transcendent reality sitting on a throne and most likely male. It shows instead that God inhabits us, moves in us, finds God’s being IN us and through us and is called by each of our names.
This may seem radical to some, discomforting maybe. God in me? God AS me? What I mean to say to this is — YES. Big and full and true. The God of Christianity took on flesh, became human so that we might become God. This was a common concept among the early Church teachers. It’s called divinization. The entire mystery of the Christian experience hung on people actively trying to become like the God they saw embodied in the person of Jesus. Pray like he did, love like he did, care for the poor like he did, act like he did. So much so, it was hoped, that Christians would become Jesus living in our midst, the Spirit of Jesus, the living breath of Jesus, God’s ruah, alive, in us. In doing so, they (we) would literally transform the world.
This is so important because, as we know, this counter-cultural, world-transforming revolution of God’s love simply hasn’t happened. Somehow Christianity has more often succeeded in putting Jesus on a pedestal to worship than become his love in the world. I get it, it’s a daring claim—little old me BE Jesus? Moreover, BE the body of Jesus with all these others? But yes, it is true. Jesus, in being Jesus, opened a gateway of possibility in the universe to us be so fully ourselves, and so in love with each other, that we enter into divine being. He made it possible for us to claim the fullness of our humanity and instead, we often give our inherent dignity and power away to other people who we think know more or have all the answers. Or, in so many cases, this power is taken from us because we’re women, or gay, or poor, or of any color skin other than white. But this inheritance, this ability to become as Jesus was, as God is, belongs to ALL of us. All of us without exception.
Ruah reminds us that the spirit of the living God inhabits every living being that breathes (yes even animals) and is indiscriminate to race, ethnicity, income, gender, sexuality, life experience or beliefs. She fills and nourishes us all. She brings us together. She enlivens us and we depend on Her for our very life. We must. Because if we stopped breathing? If She stopped loving us with her indwelling breath? We would cease to exist.