Ruach. Pneuma. Spiritus.
No, those aren’t magic words that Harry Potter could have used to turn Draco Malfoy into a mug of butterbeer, they’re the word ‘spirit’ in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.
And what strikes me today about these words is that while they’re at the heart of the highly religiously significant term ‘spirit’, they’re also at the root of some very mundane words.
Pneuma, the religiously loaded term that Rob Bell used to name his Nooma video series, is also prefix that in today’s English, relates to the use of air, as in a pneumatic (air-powered) drill or pneumatic (air-filled) tire.
And as I mentioned in Breath a few years ago, spiritus is the root word for the so-common-you-don’t-even-think-about-it process of inhaling and exhaling – also known as reSPIRation.
If you add the word ha-kodesh to ruach, the resulting word can be translated ‘Holy Spirit’ – but even without ha-kodesh, ruach seems to be a holy word that is often used to refer to the breath of God. But it also seems to be just as relevant to the much more common (but maybe no less miraculous) breathing of people, and even animals.
I wonder if there is a lesson in the fact that the spiritually significant and the temporally mundane are both rooted in the same word here. Could this point to a reality we tend to lose sight of? That the separation between sacred and secular – between spiritual and temporal – is a human construct? Is it possible that in God’s reality (the only real reality), everything is sacred, and everything spiritual?
What aspects of your life do describe as ‘non-sacred’ or ‘non-spiritual’?
Do you create these categories to keep the ‘non-sacred’ from contaminating the ‘sacred’ elements?
… Or vice-versa?
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Harry Potter’s magic words also refer to the earthly phenomenon known as wind, so when we say ‘Holy Spirit’ (Ruach ha-kodesh in Hebrew), in a sense, we’re saying ‘Holy Wind’.
But I was a little bit surprised to find in my Bible Gateway-fuelled exploration of the word ‘wind’ in the Bible that there aren’t a lot of other verses that describe the wind as an appearance of God. There are no shortages of instances of God using wind, but not many where he seems to be the wind, or to be in the wind.
Perhaps most notably, there’s a passage I’ve written about before, where überprophet Elijah is utterly alone and could really use the presence of the Holy Wind to comfort him.
‘…Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind…’ from 1 Kings 19:11
And you guessed it, the wind that God was not in, in that passage, is ruach in the original Hebrew.
In my own life, I’m quick (sometimes probably too quick) to chalk up every bit of good fortune (as trivial as a good parking spot at the mall) – and every setback (whether it’s bad traffic or bad news at the doctor’s office) – directly to God. But this passage reminds me that some winds – whether they’re refreshing summer breezes or icy winter howlers – are just nature doing its thing.
And that’s a little troubling, actually.
I’d much rather believe that God is directly involved in all of my circumstances, sending the good and the bad at just the right times and in just the right proportions to shape me into who He wants me to be. The thought that a lot of stuff just happens makes life seem a bit random.
A bit meaningless.
‘I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.’ – Ecclesiastes 1:14
Yes, the last word in that verse is ruach in the original Hebrew.
Is that what I’m doing when I look for divine involvement in my mundane circumstances? Am I chasing after the ruach – specifically, the Ruach ha-kodesh in places where He isn’t?
If you ever wonder the same thing, I encourage you to go back to our 1 Kings 19 passage above, and read the next verse. After not appearing in the wind or an earthquake in Verse 11, God comes to Elijah as a gentle whisper (also translated as ‘a still, small voice’) in 1 Kings 19:12.
And this verse reminds me that while nature is doing its thing, in the midst of even the most troubling storms, the Comforter is there to provide comfort, to re-order and redeem the random and in my experience, to give meaning to the meaningless.
He may not orchestrate and manipulate all of our circumstances to our benefit, but He does use them to shape us into who He wants us to be:
‘We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are chosen to be a part of His plan.’ – Romans 8:28 (NLV)
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Hmm. Haven’t done a lot of actual exploration of the word ‘spirit’ in this series yet, have we? Well, let’s remedy that.
Next time. For now …
Peace be with you.