"Our Daily Blog" #25
"The Breath of God"
By Reverend Denise Tracy
When I was a child, my favorite experience was getting on my bike and pedaling hard to the top of a hill, near my house in Newington, Connecticut, until I could turn the bike around and coast down to the bottom. No hands!!! What I loved was not the feeling of pedaling or the world whooshing by. Instead, it was the feeling of the wind blowing across my face; the caress of air; and the sense of freedom that resulted. WHEEEE!!! These sensations were pure joy to me: Air, caress, a whisper of breeze, followed by joy.
As a child, I associated the feeling of the wind with all that I thought was holy. The same freedom and joy which gave ease and ecstasy to me was divinity or- as I understood it then—God. But, creative notions such as God as wind were not welcome in the church of my childhood, so I kept my personal theology a secret.
Then one day, while sitting in an Old Testament class in seminary some 12 years later, we were discussing the basic theological concepts in Judaic thought. In her lecture, the Professor said, “Ruach is the Hebrew word for ‘wind’. It is interchangeable with the words "Spirit of God". Wind and the spirit of God are the same thing.” Her words caused my heart to leap. She had my attention. I listened carefully, “In fact,” she continued, “No fewer than 94 times in the Old Testament, the "Ruach" or the Spirit of God inspires the prophets. Examples include Samuel, Isaiah, Judges and Psalms.”
That day, some 49 years ago in theological school, I sat in class riveted to the lecture. The "Ruach" or Spirit of God, means a movement of air, breeze, wind, or the breath of God--- as in the creation story Genesis1:2 which says, “And the Spirit of God ]"Ruach"] moved upon the face of the waters.” Such possibilities: God, Holy Spirit, breath, air, wind. As a child, I had discovered an ancient theme. In all these years, I have never forgotten that lecture.
For years, I searched for "Ruach". But, it was not until I was with someone who was dying that I really knew the true sense of "Ruach" or Spirit. Over 30 years ago, when my grandfather was in his mid-80’s, his second wife died and the family determined that he could no longer live alone. He moved to Vermont to live with my parents and things went well for several years. At some point, my grandfather began having some troublesome symptoms. After a series of tests, it was determined that he had inoperable cancer in his liver, intestines, pancreas and bowels. My grandfather was dying.
I had a meeting in Boston and it was determined that I would rent a car and drive to Vermont after my meeting to visit my grandfather. By that time, he was receiving palliative care in a nursing home. He was told that I would be coming to Vermont to see him and pray with him on Sunday morning. I arrived at my parent’s house on Saturday night around 11:00 pm. As I walked into the house, the phone was ringing. It was the nursing home. My grandfather had taken a turn for the worse, could we come? My father and I drove across the dark hills and arrived at my grandfather’s bedside. We spent the night listening to his breath. Sometimes it was a whisper, sometimes there were spaces between breaths which lasted an eternity and we wondered: Is this it? After a long night, the nurses came in to medicate him." Do you want this shot?", I asked my grandfather. An imperceptible movement of his eyes signaled "No". He was choosing to die fully present. At about 7:30 AM, my grandfather, who, because the medication knocked him out and the cancer had reached his throat, had not talked for 3 days, suddenly called out my father’s name. “Bobby? Bobby!” We all stood still and listened. “Hold me.” my grandfather said.
I looked at my father. His eyes were filled with tears. “Dad? He needs you.” I said. “I can’t.” my father replied, “I just can’t.” Then one of the nurses spoke to my father, “Bob, If you don’t do this, you will never forgive yourself.” At first her words shocked me. Then, I realized they were true. If my Father did not honor my grandfather’s last request, my Dad would not be able to forgive himself.“Dad,” I offered, “I’ll hold you and you hold Gramps.”
We created a cradle of the generations, holding my grandfather, speaking to him of love, urging him to let go, to complete his journey. Every breath was holy. Suddenly a spasm shook our bodies. My Grandfather relaxed and let go of his living consciousness. Over the next three hours, he curled into himself, while we laid our hands on his body, blessing and loving him. We talked softly, listening to his soft breathing sounds as they got quieter. Just before he took his last breath, he opened his eyes and looked deeply into my Father’s eyes. Then my grandfather left this world. All night I felt as if I was in the presence of the most powerful, yet gentle, wind. The Spirit moved within and among us, and yet the air was perfectly still. It was then I realized that what I was feeling was the feeling of the "Ruach", of the divine or the holy presence of the Spirit of God. This Spirit exists in the still, calm moment where the inner wind gives life, joy and freedom. Remembering that night, the wind resounds in my eyes and ears. It was a sacred gift to know it from the inside and to be able to hold the treasure of the "Ruach" in my own hands. "Ruach" gives a resonant religion that echoes and evolves so we might love in the wind, live of the wind, become the wind.