From the Hills: The Breath of God 

By Sylvia Peterson
Posted 3/1/22

Sometimes when I wake up in the night, I lay there and listen to Husband breathe. In and out. In and out. There is comfort in the rhythmic respirations of someone we love. 

I recently read a …

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From the Hills: The Breath of God 


Sometimes when I wake up in the night, I lay there and listen to Husband breathe. In and out. In and out. There is comfort in the rhythmic respirations of someone we love. 

I recently read a piece written by Sandra Thurman Caporale from the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston. She echoes Rob Bell’s beautiful video, “Breathe,” where he asks, “Have you ever thought about God’s name? Have you ever thought about God’s name being anything different than just a name?”

In Exodus 3:13-14, “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 responded, “Moses, you tell them YHWH sent you.” 

In the English translation, the name of God is spelled, capitol L, capitol O, capital R, capital D. It appears in the Bible over 6,000 times. But in Hebrew — the original language — it is pronounced: Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh. Many ancient traditions considered God’s name so sacred, so mysterious, so holy that it should never be spoken aloud.

Over time we’ve added an “a” and an “e” to get YaHWeH. Vowels make it easier to say. But when pronounced without the inserted vowels, the name of God actually sounds like breathing:

Yod Heh (inhale) Vav Heh (exhale).

Our deepest sighs, and the groans we utter when there are no words, are silent utterances of His name. In times of trouble, we are sustained by simply breathing. In and out. Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh. 

In Genesis 2:7 it says, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” 

Bell points out that there is a paradox at the heart of what it means to be human. “We are fragile and vulnerable, we come from the dust. And yet at the same time we’ve been breathed into by the creator of the universe. And that divine breath is in every single human being.”

In the Bible, the word for “breath” is the same word as for “spirit.” In the Hebrew language it’s the word ruah. Scripture tells us that when God takes away the ruah, the breath that is God’s very name, we return to the dust. 

But when God sends the ruah, His name gives life. A baby’s first cry, his first breath, speaks the name of God. While we live, His name is constantly filling us with ruah. And when our time is ended, our final utterance is His name. 

Our breathing gives praise to the one who made us, regardless of what we believe.  

Caporale writes, “In sadness, we breathe heavy sighs. In joy, our lungs feel almost like they will burst. In fear we hold our breath and have to be told to breathe slowly to help us calm down. When we’re about to do something hard, we take a deep breath to find our courage.

“This is so beautiful and fills me with emotion every time I grasp the thought. God chose to give himself a name that we can’t help but speak every moment we’re alive. All of us, always, everywhere. Waking and sleeping, breathing with the name of God on our lips.”

I thank God for each holy breath Husband and I take in the night, lying there quietly. Someday when we can no longer breathe God’s name, He will take our ruah. Until that moment, Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh. … Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.


Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at


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