The Breath of Life

“Spirituality” is a term that’s hard to get your hands on; it seems invisible, up in the air, like something that isn’t quite here. The Hebrew term for spirit, rua, was much more concrete. It meant breath. (And “breath” is something we can feel, even see on a cold day). Yahweh breathed the rua into Adam (literally “the Man”)  and Adam became a living being. The connection of  breath to spirit repeats itself in ancient wisdom from all over the world. Prana in Hindu and Buddhist traditions means both “breath” and “spiritual energy,” as does ruh in the Sufi tradition. Breath and energy turn up again in the concepts of Ch’i and in Shamanic spiritual journeying. The examples are endless.

So the root meaning of “spirituality” has to do with the Breath of Life. And Evil may have a lot to do with sucking life out.

The ultimate test for what is spiritual may be fairly simple: Is it Life-giving or Death-dealing? What breathes Life into our world, and what sucks Life out? This question makes spirituality very tangible indeed. Drilling for oil in a reckless fashion, gambling with trillions of dollars that belonged to ordinary people, waging war in Iraq – all brought death, not life, in their wake. Might it not be that our extreme lust for profit, our compulsion to dominate the world, our wars and our treatment of Nature are slowly sucking the life out of our planet? And out of us?

Blind adherence to any “Thing,” be it a nation or a corporation or a religious system, stifles the Breath of Life. Corporations, governments and religious institutions are Things. Institutions are necessary, but the more they become inanimate objects rather than groupings of people who breathe life into the world, the more they kill the Spirit.

Our ultimate allegiance must be not to Things but to the Living Whole. That is why people of goodwill strive again and again to breathe life and spirit into our world. In Lord Acton’s words, “Everything good must be done over and over again forever.”

We are part of an immense world filled with life and mind. The living Earth is not a bunch of resources for us to suck up and use. It’s Pacha Mama: Mother World, Mother of all Life. Ecology has a deep spiritual dimension in that it senses the Earth not as a dead Thing but as a living, breathing Whole of which we are parts.

How can we become contributing members of a Living, Breathing Earth? The country of Costa Rica derives over 90% of its energy needs from alternative sources – hydro, thermal, wind and solar. It does not have a standing army. It does not invade other countries. And yet it seems to be doing rather well. The very fact that this is a shock to us points to where we stand. America can’t seem to dream any more. It seems stuck in destructive behavior.

A Few Ways to Breathe Life…

  • Be outspoken. Oppose war. Stand up for the poor and the persecuted.
  • Listen to prophetic voices instead of the inane political dialogue that plagues our country.
  • Use your money and resources to help people out, especially the young and those who are trying to do worthwhile things.
  • Get Integrities and like-minded publications around. Turn off the TV and read books.
  • Cut back on your energy use and waste month by month. Make it a challenge (like a game) but a game that breathes life into the world.
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