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Justin Gentry ~ To a God as Close as Your Breath: A Brief Primer on Meditation

Then Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the people of Israel and I tell them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’; and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What do I tell them?”  

God said to Moses, “I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘I-AM sent me to you.’”  Exodus 3:13-15 (The Message) 

Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like to encounter God? Not the general presence you might get occasionally in prayer, or while experiencing great art, but a genuine face-on-the-floor encounter with the Divine. I have often thought about this and even desired it at times. I picture about what I might ask or do – and in none of these do I ask God what God wants to be called.  

On the surface, it seems like a silly question. I already know who God is…right? For much of my life my unspoken assumption was that if I did ask God what God’s name is, the response would be something like, “My name is God. Who I am is God. Now let me tell you about the wonderful plan I have for your life.” 

But in the Bible we see a story about a God who isn’t quite so simple. 

The story begins with a man named Moses herding sheep. He is just doing his thing, watching livestock eat. They weren’t even his sheep; they belong to his father-in-law. It is a pretty ordinary scene for the Ancient Near East. 

In the distance, Moses sees a burning bush. This in and of itself is not that out of the ordinary. Fires happen all the time. However, this bush does not stop burning and Moses goes to investigate. When he arrives the bush that burns-yet-does-not-burn speaks to him. 

I don’t think anything prepares you for something like this. When Moses hears the fire speak he covers his face because he is afraid to look at God. He is caught up in the sacred craziness of the moment. He is completely caught by surprise. 

During his encounter Moses asks a rather simple question. He asks God/the bush that burns-but does-not-burn for his name. And God responds in a rather curious way. God says, “My name is YHWH.”  

Thanks, YHWH, that’s really helpful. 

In English this word is usually translated “I am who I am” because YHWH is similar to the Hebrew verb “to be.” God’s response to this simple question is, “I am a bit like the present tense of the verb ‘to be’.”  

Confused yet? Rabbi Lawrence Kushner explains it like this: 

The letters of the name of God in Hebrew… are frequently pronounced Yahweh. But in truth they are inutterable…This word {YHWH} is the sound of breathing.

The holiest name in the world, the Name of Creator, is the sound of your own breathing. That these letters are unpronounceable is no accident. Just as it is no accident that they are also the root letters of the Hebrew verb ‘to be’… God’s name is the name of Being itself. 

I find it interesting that God does not choose a Hebrew, Greek, Latin or English name. God doesn’t even choose a masculine or feminine name. God chooses a name that is as personal and universal as the next breath you breathe. The Siddur (a Jewish prayer-book) says this: “The breathing of all life praises your Name.” God is the source of all our breath; God is Breath Itself.  

Breathe that in for a second or two. 


I think we all go through seasons where we have trouble naming God. God is such a huge concept that complete accuracy is a problematic goal. It doesn’t help that names like Lord, Master, Father, and even Savior have been used by the careless to damage or dominate others. Sometimes I get anxious about how I approach God wondering if I am doing it right or if he (or she or…it?) even cares. 

Many of us have trouble breathing, too. We breathe shallowly and from the chest instead of deeply from the diaphragm. We have shame tied to our bellies so we suck them in depriving our bodies of much needed oxygen. We allow our anxiety to keep our breaths small, insignificant, and malnourished.  

I wonder if these two realities are connected? 

What if slowing down and paying attention to our breath is spiritual work? I have found that a routine practice of meditation is one of the best ways to reconnect me with God. Meditation is simple and, like your breath, it is always available to you. For me it is a type of prayer that I can always move into, even when I am conflicted about prayer.  

So how do we meditate? 

Find some silence: This likely will be the most difficult part but it is important to minimize distractions. Close your door and turn your phone off. A clear indicator of how much you need to be meditating is how difficult this step is for you. (It’s ok, I hated this part too.) 

Get in a comfortable position: I prefer cross-legged on the floor because it feels more meditative, but that is just me. If you have back or knee issues sitting in a chair is fine. Just find a position that allows you to sit upright and not slouch. You can even lay on you back but I would avoid the bed. This isn’t nap time.  

Focus on your Breath: Think about the gift from God that is your breath. Observe it entering your nose, moving through your throat, and then into your lungs. Feel the sensations of it coming and going out of your body; nourishing your tissues without fail. Just enjoy the sensation for ten or so breath cycles.  

Use a Mantra (Optional): A mantra is just a word or phrase you repeat to aid in concentration.  Some people prefer this to just focusing on the breath. Some ideas might include: 

“You are always with me; Everything I have is yours.” 

“He must become greater; I must become less.” 

“God is my provider; I have everything I need.” 

Or you can focus on a word like Love, Joy, or Peace. 

Observe what happens: Here is the trick. You don’t try to make things happen. You sit in the space you have made and allow the breath to do its work. When your mind inevitably wanders just simply guide it back to the breath. Don’t judge yourself harshly for getting distracted. Just stick with it.   

I would begin with a five minute interval. After you get comfortable with that time feel free to increase it as needed. 

Meditation is a treasured practice in Christian history but it is also a much-needed spiritual practice in my life. It gets me back to what is most essential, the Breath of God and my connection to it. It increases my ability to see and interact with the burning bushes that are all around me. When I am stressed or anxious it calms me.  

At first it seemed like a silly thing to focus on breathing and sit in silence. How does that produce anything? Now I see that breath is a gift from YHWH – and it is enough. 

Do you have a regular practice of meditation? How has it strengthened your connection to God?