The Glory of God is a human fully alive.Irenaeus of Lyons
I grew up in a tradition that placed a lot of emphasis on making sure that when one died one went to heaven. And yet, all these decades later, as I read the Bible, I’m amazed at how little it actually talks about this, and how much it talks about living a full life here and now.
This idea can be found at the very beginning of Genesis, where the writer imagined the creation of the first human. After God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, he then breathed into the mudball’s nostrils and life entered the lifeless form. Perhaps, the very image and likeness of God entered at this moment as well, a spark of the divine.
The writer clearly had in mind that in the breath is life itself, along with a primordial desire to continue breathing—to continue living. For breath and life are intertwined.
Another interesting connection is that the very first picture of God in Genesis 1 is this breath or wind sweeping “over the face of the water” (Genesis 1: 2). And the breath gave resonance to a voice which said, “Let there be!” over and over again.
“Let there be light!” so that there can be splendor and beauty and the full majesty of creation revealed.
“Let there be darkness!” so that the moon and stars can shine more brilliantly.
“Let there be water!” So that life can fill the oceans in the form of wales and turtles. Let lakes and streams be filled with trout and salmon and frogs that belch sound from their bellies.
“Let there be land!” so that life can spill into the forests in the form of terrifying grizzly bears and Ponderosa pines and thin aspens quaking in the gentle breeze.
Understand that this breath, which first hovered over chaos and vibrated the vocal chords of God who then spoke the world into being, is also the one exhaled into Adam, and subsequently inhaled into every human.
Think about that for a moment. The unconscious heaving of your chest right now had its beginning with the breath God. And when it was expelled from his throat a long time ago, life exploded into the universe.
In other words, the simple act of breathing is powerful stuff. And it demands that we do something with it. Something extraordinary.
There’s a wonderful scene at the beginning of the movie Dead Poet’s Society where Robin Williams plays an English teacher introducing poetry to a group of young men from wealthy families. None of the students appear to want to be there. This is just a hoop that they have to jump through before getting on with the bigger things in life, like a career and money and cars and positions of power.
It’s not unlike many of my students who are forced to take a course in the humanities from me.
I love how William’s character knocks them off balance on the very first day as he has the teenagers huddle close in the middle of the classroom while he gives them this speech.
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for (emphasis mine).
To quote from Whitman,
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish…,
What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?”
It’s a great question, isn’t it? And one that I think the writer of Genesis is asking us to ponder as well.
And declare, “Let there be!”
Who knows what wondrous thing might happen next?
Photo Credit: Photo credit: Brynn Tweeddale on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA