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Breathing in God

Presence, breath and meditation
Presence, breath and meditation

Rabbi Kushner writes about the holiest part of the temple in his book God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know.

He explains that this room was so sacred only the High Priest could enter it--and that being only once a year on Yom Kippur. The priest entered the room with a rope tied around him because if he were to drop dead, no one would could enter the room to retrieve the body. Once inside, the High Priest’s duty was to say the four letters of God’s name: Yod Hey Vav Hey.

Rabbi Kushner explains that the reason God’s name is unpronounceable because the name of God is the sound of breathing. So the High Priest went through a cleansing ritual (which I assume was more vigorous than a normal cleansing ritual since he’s fixing to enter the holiest place on earth) all to simply breathe in the presence of God.

How do you find God's presence?

I once tried to sit in a meditative state to focus on my breathing. I got too fidgety and too self aware and… too bored. It seemed like a waste of time.

Isn’t it strange that sometimes it’s easier to be busy than to be still and breathe? (Or is that just me…?)

Our culture seems to idolize busyness. The busier you are, the more important you seem.
And life gets busy.
So many things to do.
So many deadlines to beat.
So many people to meet.
Errands to run.
Meetings to attend. And then more meetings. And then more meetings. And then meetings that didn’t have to be meetings fill up our schedule.

We move, move, move and we do, do, do.

But this takes a toll on us; on our humanity; on our souls.

We return to Egypt as slaves where our day is filled with working to meet the quota for bricks. Brick after brick after brick after brick. Sleep. Wake up. Brick after brick after brick…

Life, then, becomes nothing more than meeting obligations and measuring how much we produce. We exchange our freedom for the chains of busyness. We return to Egypt.

There’s no joy in living like that.

This is why God reminds us (actually, commands us) to keep the Sabbath (the intentional act of resting from work to worship/connect with God. The Jews kept sabbath from Friday evening to Sunday evening. The Christians generally use Sunday as Sabbath) holy — to take time to rest from our labors so that we can commune with God: To be reminded that we are, first and foremost, children of God.

To be reminded that we are human beings and not human doings whose lives revolve around production and output.

The High Priest prepared himself not for an elaborate ritual, not to recite a lengthy liturgy, but to simply say God’s name, which is the sound of breathing. The High Priest would spend his time in the most holiest of places simply breathing... And being.

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to simply breathe and be in the presence of God?

Finding rest

This act of Sabbath pauses our daily rituals of doing (and doing and doing) and shifts our focus to being.
Why is Sabbath so important that God gave it to us as the fourth commandment?
Because it’s easy to lose our souls in our work. It’s easy to live like a robot on an assembly line. It’s scarily easy to become a human doing.
Sabbath reminds us that our worth is not based on what we do; what (and how much) we produce; but that our worth comes from simply being a child of God.

Sabbath helps us to find the beauty that is all around us — much of what we take for granted.
Sabbath shifts our focus to the presence of God that always surrounds us.

Busyness takes life.
Sabbath gives life.

What are some life-giving things you haven’t been able to do because you were so busy?

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to do the things that gave you life? That reminded you of God?

When was the last time you paused and simply breathe by saying God’s name Yod Hey Vav Hey?

Explore some more ways of encountering peace through God's presence through our Spiritual Practices section.


Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at

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