Monday, November 22, 2010

East of Eden (part one): The Nose Knows

It’s the question that has kept theologians awake for hours on end, debating the significance of this verse. It’s been the point of division between denominations, shattering and splintering them, as their members choose sides, tearing asunder their families. Dr. Peter Venkman might even go so far as to suggest it would create mass hysteria, human sacrifice, and have dogs and cats living together…

It’s one verse, taken from the Old Testament, found in Genesis 2:7: Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed life into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Now, I’ve never considered blowing into someone face as an act of holiness. In fact, there are only three times I can think of when I intentionally exhale my breath and someone gets a whiff of it in their nose: when I blow into my dog Maggie’s face (which annoys her), when I blow into my 19-month-old son’s face (which makes him giggle) and when I blow into my own hand to check my breath to make sure it doesn’t have some rancid post-coffee smell to it.

But in reading this verse as part of my “Sonny is stuck re-reading Genesis” kick, I was taken aback when I actually paid attention to what was written in this passage and didn’t just gloss it over mentally like I do so many times with passages I think that I know. Did the Bible actually state that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils to give him life? That’s not how I remember the felt board lessons of creation from Sunday school when I was a kid. You know – God created man out of clay, conveniently having a plant nearby to cover the naughty bits out of our line of sight, and God grabbed Adam’s hand and helped him to stand up.

But, since I was certain that God was trying to show me something in this passage other than to wonder “What does God’s breath smell like?” I decided to dig a little deeper to see what might be found.  And I discovered that the words bolded above in the verse have some unique translations when we look at them in Hebrew…

Nostrils. Aph. Masculine noun. Refers to the breathing part of the face. What’s crazy cool about this is that to me, it infers that the nose is meant to be the primary place from where we are to breathe. Think about it: in singing choral music, in meditation, in trying to get ourselves to just calm down – we always inhale deeply through the nose. The nose can also betray our emotions at times: we may have a completely stoic look on our face…and yet our nostrils might flare (showing anger or frustration). This also makes the term “mouth breather” seem to be a bit more derogatory (SINNERS! ACTING OUT OF ACCORDANCE WITH GOD’S DIVINE PLAN! And you just look weird.).

Breath. Neshamah. Feminine noun. Refers to a puff of air or spirit – or, the soul. Synonymous with nephesh, which roughly translated means “breathing creature,” and is often found in combination use with the word “ruach.” (Hmm…male [aph] and female [neshamah]. Where have I read those words before in Genesis…?)  Now, if you stop to look at this in a literal way, it shows that according to the creation story, God animated us with His own breath. The Ruach Elohim. God imparted His Spirit into us to get us started in life. This goes beyond thinking of creation as starting with us beginning to breathe on our own once we rose up out of the dirt. Nor is it to be thought of as some form of divine CPR where God kickstarted us and we hen took of on our own. It really puts a new spin on John 15:5 when Christ says, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Like, say for example, breathe.

Maybe it’s also allegorical for why we can’t hold our breath for a very long time – it’s like trying to hold in God.

And good luck with that.

So think about this week - especially in the midst of the chaos that surrounds the holiday season, including how and why 87 metric tons of food is coked and consumed in homes in America - and how, where and when you need to take a deep breath; how, where and when you may find yourself out of breath; how, where and when you need to remember to just breathe.

Breathe in the minty-fresh Spirit of God, and let it revive you.


Unknown said...

Sonny, such profound words for me today, as I sit here with an unconquerable sinus infection, struggling to breathe. There is significance in my body's innate desire to breathe through my nose rather than my mouth and in the exhaustion that I feel just in being unable to do so. My jaws ache with the effort. I cannot eat comfortably (and thus nourish myself) because I am unable to function as I was created to. What a profound way to look at a nasty old cold! Perhaps I needed that reminder not to let physical struggles remove me from how I was created to function spiritually to take the grumpy edge off of being sick for so long. ;)

Anonymous said...


check spelling ;-)