A popular idea from a blog with widespread impact asserts that saying God’s name “Yahweh” is equivalent to breathing. There is also a video at the link with very emotional music giving the words that are in the blog.
This idea about the name “Yahweh” initially may sound sweet and poetic but it is a misuse of and misunderstanding of the word “Yahweh,” the name God gave Moses when Moses was to tell the Hebrew slaves in Egypt who their God is.
According to the article, a woman named Sandra Thurman Caporale claims that
<YH (inhale): WH (exhale).>
< So a baby’s first cry, his first breath, speaks the name of God. A deep sigh calls His name – or a groan or gasp that is too heavy for mere words. Even an atheist would speak His name, unaware that their very breath is giving constant acknowledgment to God. Likewise, a person leaves this earth with their last breath, when God’s name is no longer filling their lungs.>
There is no basis for this assertion. What is of importance with the name God gave Moses is the meaning: “I AM THAT I AM.” The meaning reveals God as the self-existent one who is living and eternal; he always has been and always will be. This revelation was in contrast to the idols of Egypt and other pagan gods that had to be pressed into statues or carved and carried about. They were local gods with supposed power over certain areas or forces of nature but could not speak, hear, travel, or deliver their worshipers from harm.
Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save. Isaiah 45:20
The idols of the nations are nothing but silver and gold,
The work of human hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
They have eyes, but they do not see;
They have ears, but they do not hear,
Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths.
Psalm 135:15-19 (also see Psalm 115:5)
Yahweh is the living God, the one who is because he does not depend on anything for existence, and who is unlimited in his being. He is the God who is because he is the only God. “I AM THAT I AM” is a wonderful concept to ponder in the biblical context.
Richard Rohr’s Input
Richard Rohr, the Franciscan friar who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, finds this idea of “Yahweh” and breathing to be enchanting, not surprisingly:
< YHVH was considered a literally unspeakable word for Jews, and any attempt to know what they were talking about was “in vain.” As the commandment said: “Do not utter the name of God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). All attempts to fully think God are in vain. From God’s side, the divine identity was kept mysterious and unavailable to the mind. When Moses asked for the divinity’s name, he received only the phrase that translates “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
This unspeakability has long been recognized, but now we know it goes even deeper: formally the name of God was not, could not be spoken at all — only breathed. Many are convinced that its correct pronunciation is an attempt to replicate and imitate the very sound of inhalation and exhalation. Therefore, the one thing we do every moment of our lives is to speak the name of God. This makes the name of God our first and last word as we enter and leave the world.> From Rohr’s blog
God gave a word that could be pronounced, not just “breathed.” The idea is not that God wanted his identity to be “kept mysterious and unavailable to the mind.” In fact, God rather dramatically displayed who he was to Pharaoh, to Egypt, and to the Hebrews — his might and power over creation — and his mercy through his deliverance of the Hebrew slaves from their Egyptian masters.
Several times, God declared that he was acting for his people in order that Egypt would know he is the living sovereign God:
Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I extend My hand over Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst. Exodus 7:5
…and that you may tell in the presence of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, so that you may know that I am the LORD. Exodus 10:2
God’s acts in Egypt were a visual explanation for at least part of what his name means. Rohr’s claim that God is supposedly keeping his identity “unavailable to the mind,” reveals Rohr’s love of esoteric mysticism. Rohr demeans the mind and the intellect in order to serve the false notion that we can know God in a “deeper” way via mystical methods.
But the mind and using reason are part of how man is made in the image of God. Knowing God with the mind is intended by God.
It is true that finite man can only know an infinite God in limited ways. However, God revealed enough of who he is so that man can understand God’s attributes, majesty, holiness, and power. God provides knowledge of who he is and that is always sufficient.
The Meditation/Contemplative Angle
The popularity of meditation in the culture (mostly based on Eastern meditative practices), and consequently the breath being made into something it is not (as in the many “breathwork” practices which are New Age), has contributed to the popularity of the idea of “Yahweh” as breathing.
Increased Contemplative practices in the church has turned attention to breath and breathing since many of those techniques involve breathing methods, focus on breath, and misuse of Scripture about God’s breath that take it literally.
Breath has become almost a sacred thing, which is what it is in Eastern religions as chi and prana. The correlation of breathing with God’s name is a regrettable consequence of these non-Christian spiritual influences.
Cheapening God’s Name
Carporale whose claim that saying Yahweh is breathing states:
<God chose to give himself a name that we can’t help but speak every moment we’re alive. All of us, always, everywhere. Waking, sleeping, breathing, with the name of God on our lips.>
This idea cheapens God’s name; it does not exalt his name. And speaking God’s name is not beneficial without faith.
The rich meaning and profundity of “I AM THAT I AM” gives way to being simply a breathing function. Instead of exploring and pondering the rich depths of this phrase, it is turned into what amounts to prosaic mushiness suitable for a greeting card. What God told Moses and gives us in that name should be treasured and pondered, not misused and gutted of significance.