Death by starvation. Death by dehydration. Death by suffocation.

Without the three most essential elements for sustaining life — food, water, and air — we die. For that reason, we hunger after and become desperate for that which allows us to maintain life…to keep on keeping on, as my late father used to say. We get hungry at various times of the day (some of us more often than others). We literally crave that which our body needs. When our body needs salt, we crave salty foods. When it needs protein, we seek after a steak or beans. When it must have water, we run for the refrigerator or faucet or outdoor spigot. If we — like me — are used to living below sea level and we venture to the mountains, we spend a few days drawing in as much air as our lungs can hold. Or, if we are swimming underwater, we will often come up for a breath. If something holds us back or down (for whatever reason) we will flail our arms and legs and become frantic to reach the line above the weight of the water.

Likewise, without spiritual food, water and air, we will die spiritually. And so we should remember each time we sing the song Breathe.

Air

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.[1] 

In the very beginning of God’s story — of our story, really — the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) began to create something out of nothing. As we read these words most commonly attributed to the writings of Moses, we see that the Holy Spirit of God hovered over the first of creation. The word “Spirit” in Hebrew is ruwach, and means wind, breath. God’s Spirit is often likened to the wind or a breath, both of which are made up of air.

In Genesis 2, as God’s story continues, we read a more detailed description of the creation of God’s finest work: man. In that passage it says: the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.[2] 

It was the breath (Heb: nashamah) of God that breathed life into man. A closer look at that word reveals a startling truth. Nashamah means both “breath of God” and “spirit of man.” According to Moses, it was the LORD (YHWH or Jehovah) God (Elohim — plural intensive, singular meaning — the One True God) who performed this birthing process. The word “breathed” is Naphach and means “blow.”

In the 1970s, as a nursing student, I was required to spend time in Labor & Delivery. I so vividly remember the first birth of a human child I ever witnessed. Little by little I stepped back… until I was pressed against the farthest wall. When the little tike was swatted on the behind and began to wail, the doctor turned to me and said, “God sure is big, isn’t He?” All I could do was nod. Then he said, “They say that just as a baby is born, God presses His lips over a child’s nostrils and blows. I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but I like the sentiment.”