Monday, June 13, 2011

The Breath of Pentecost

I've been reflecting on the Latin word, a verb which typically would be listed in a dictionary as:

spiro, spirare, spiravi, spiratus

If I remember correctly, because Latin is an inflected language, wherein verbs are conjugated, the various endings of the verb meaning various things, unlike English which uses helping words rather than endings, we have:

I breathe, to breathe, I have breath, breath

Our English word 'spirit' comes as a cognate from the participle, the fourth word listed above, 'spiratus', which translates 'breath'.

The Gospels report that Jesus 'breathed on them' as he said, 'receive the Holy Spirit', i.e., 'receive the holy breath.' It is not just a play on words, although it is that, it is rather the recognition that life is defined by respiration (continuous breathing). When breathing stops, life stops.

Receiving the Holy Spirit as we celebrate on Pentecost really means that we breathe God into our lives, and that only as we accept the breath of God into our bodies can we possibly live in/with God most fully. When we do that in community along with other people, that 'religious breath' becomes a more powerful force for following the teachings and conveying the love of Jesus.

Interestingly, 'ruah' from the Hebrew and 'pneuma' from the Greek, words used in the biblical texts which we translate as spirit, also both mean 'breath'!

Begs the question why the reformation translators came up with the word, 'ghost', as a proper rendering of the original languages! When we talk of the ‘Holy Spirit’ we're not talking, at least biblically, about an embodiment like Casper, but rather simply about breathing God into our lives and receiving (pardon the pun) inspiration!

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