In Matthew 6, when Jesus was showing us how to pray, he said, “Our Father in ouranos (heaven) hallowed be your name” and later he says do not worry for the birds of the ouranos (air) do not worry. In Greek mythology the god Uranus comes from the Greek word ouranos, who was the sky-god, and his breath was the wind. God is in ouranos and his breath is the Spirit.
In Genesis the earth was formless and empty and God’s Spirit (veruach Elohim) hovered over the waters. The Hebrew word for breath or spirit is ruach. Ruach Elohim, to say forces us to breath out wind. Others translate veruach Elohim as God’s Wind. In French the word for breath is haleine. To say it one must breath. The same for the Greek word penuma. When God re-named Abram and Sarai he breathed new life into them by re-naming them Abra-ham and Sar-ah. New breaths. New life. The Wind of God.
When the Spirit came upon the disciples on Pentecost they heard a sound like the blowing of a violent wind (ouranos). God’s breath. God’s life.
The Wind of God is revealed to us through His words, through Scripture. When we go to them we find truth and that truth re-names us, changes us, transforms us. It inspires us through God’s breath. To lose ourselves in the Wind of God is to be re-created out of tohu vavohu, from the chaos, the formless and void. We become nothing and through God’s Word become created new.
The Simchat Torah (Hebrew for “rejoicing in the law”) is a Jewish holiday celebrating the conclusion of the annual cycle of the Torah readings and the beginning of the new cycle. The Torah scrolls are carried around the synagogue while the people sing and dance.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells the story of a newly arrived Soviet Jewish immigrant to Israel. He asked the man what he thought of their Simchat Torah celebration. To his surprise, the man said that while it was very beautiful, in Leningrad, Simchat Torah was better. Kushner was curious and a little insulted by his response.
“How is it better?” Kushner asked.
“In Leningrad,” He explained, “If you dance in front of the synagogue on Simchat Torah, you must assume that the secret police will photograph everyone. This means that you will be identified and sooner or later your employer will be notified. And since such a dance is considered anti-Soviet, you must be prepared to lose your job! So you see, to dance on such an occasion, this is a different kind of dance.”
Kushner wondered if he’d have the spiritual courage to give himself so completely to any dance. What would it be like to do something with one’s whole being? To let one’s self be as nothing. Can we give ourselves to God’s Wind and dance with his words? Breathing in the joy of his Word?
After Simchat Torah everyone sleeps in because of the hakafot (the dancing with the Torah in circles) and the festivities the previous evening. The angels were up and ready for the morning prayers but were bored waiting for the people to awake. They decided to clean up in heaven in the meantime. They found heaven littered with strange objects: torn slippers, broken heels, frayed shoelaces. They had never come across anything like it.
They asked the angel Michael what it was all about. Michael said they were leftover from last night’s hakafot where the Jews danced with the Torah. He proceeded to sort through the shoes dividing them up by community.
Michael said, “The archangel Gabriel ties crowns for the God out of Israel’s prayers. Today, I shall fashion an even more glorious crown for the Almighty out of these torn shoes.”
May you lose yourself in His Word. And through the joy of His Word, may you never stop dancing…