This post originally appeared on MinistryMatters.com
In “God Was In This Place and I, I Did Not Know” Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes about the holiest part of the Temple — a room so sacred that only the High Priest could enter and only enter it once a year on Yom Kippur. The High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies with a rope tied around his leg so that if he were ever to pass out or drop dead, someone could drag him out because no one could enter to retrieve the body.
Once inside, the High Priest had only one thing to do, something he had prepared to do for months. He would say the ineffable four-letter name of God: Yod. Hey. Vav. Hey.
Rabbi Kushner tells us that the reason God’s name is unpronounceable is because the name of God is the sound of breathing. The High Priest went into the holiest of room in the Temple and simply breathed.
For months, the High Priest would prepare to simply breathe in the presence of God in the innermost part of the sanctuary.
I find myself wanting to do more than just breathe in the presence of God. Confess. Explain. State my case. Plea. Ask. Bargain. Complain. I’m too neurotic to just breathe in the presence of God. Silence is often awkward and deafening in its own sense.
But it’s something I need to learn to do more. It’s amazing how ministry saps out the human being in you. We who are to take care of others often forgo taking care of ourselves. Breathing with God can become a nuisance, an obstacle, something easily ignored or forgotten. When our plates get too full, the first thing that falls off is our relationship with God. Ironic. But it’s the truth. And the last thing we think about doing is reconnecting with God. Maybe we tell ourselves the lie, “I can do anything. With God.” Only the truth is, we add “with God” because of the nature of our profession. What we really mean is, “I can do anything.”
And soon enough we find ourselves like the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Meeting the quota brick by brick by brick by brick. There’s no joy. Just obligations. There’s no passion. Just a job. And we know we don’t have to live like this. But there’s a meeting tonight. A counseling session tomorrow. Meeting with a family to plan a memorial tomorrow afternoon which forces you to miss your child’s play at school. We’ve become slaves ourselves. Slaves to the office of the pastor. We’ve lost the art of being a human being and we’ve transformed to some sort of heartless robot — a human doing — that meets its daily quota brick by brick.
The High Priest would spend months of preparation not for an elaborate ritual, not to recite an lengthy liturgy, but to just simply say God’s name, which is the sound of breathing. To just breathe. And be.
I think it’s nice to remind ourselves that we are human beings once in a while. As pastors, it’s important to realize that we are not in control, God is. When I’m getting tense, when I’m getting moody, when I find less joy in the work I’m doing, when things start to feel like a job — I know something within me is not right. I’ve dragged on too long thinking it’s me against the world.
When I was growing up, I vividly remember my dad taking me to a beach and asking me to listen to the sounds of the waves. He told me that the waves crashing are the sounds of God breathing. (He also once told me that the rain is God’s tears over the sadness of the bad thing I had done).
Now I go to the beach (a blessing of living in Santa Barbara) and just stare into the horizon to hear the crashing of the waves. I am reminded to breathe. To let God be in control. God is bigger than my aspirations and my failures. It’s not about me. It’s about God.
And when I give myself the space to breathe in the presence of God, I feel my soul coming back to life.