Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Breathing in the Breath of God: The Holy Spirit

I remember taking a class in graduate school that I found fascinating at the time, and I find myself today still drawing benefits from it, particularly as I read Jesus’ unworldly masterpiece, A Course in Miracles. The class was phonetics, a study of special speech sounds and their production.

I learned that each language operates from a set of phonemes, the smallest unit of sound. For example, in English, although the alphabet consists of only 26 letters, these letters represent 42 different sounds, or phonemes. For example, the letter /a/ is pronounced in two different ways, depending on the context. There's the /a/ in gap, and the /a/ in gape. This is one reason English is a difficult language to learn by a foreign speaker, same letters, different sounds.

One reason I am fascinated by phonetics is that it drives home the fact that words are air, i.e., each word is air passing from our lungs through our larynx and shaped by our tongue, lips, teeth, and cheeks. For example, the word “voice” consists of 4 phonemes, and each phoneme can be described. There is formal way to describe what happens in the mouth for each phoneme, and the following is a crude description.

/v/ vee

The upper front teeth touch the inner part of the lower lip and the air is forced out.

/o/ oh

The teeth release and the inside of the mouth constricts and the lips form a circle, emitting air, while the vocal chords in the larynx vibrate.

/i/ ee

The tongue rests on the back teeth, the front of the tongue slightly touches the back of the lower teeth, and raises up, and the lips are slightly open.

/ce/ hiss

The lips widen, the teeth almost close, the tip of the tongue slightly touches the back of the lower teeth, raises up and a hissing sound pours through the narrow slit formed by the teeth.

Now, I hear the word “voice” in a whole new way; my voice is truly air, a breath of air.

The reason for this unusual foray into phonetics is to lay the groundwork for this powerful connection: inspire and spirit have the same root meaning. Both words spring from the same Latin root: spirare, meaning “to breathe.” When I am inspired, I am breathing spirit, the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. His Voice is always speaking to me, and I am reminded of this each time I speak, knowing that my voice is breath.

God’s Voice speaks to me all through the day. (Title, Lesson 49)

It is quite possible to listen to God's Voice all through the day without interrupting your regular activities in any way. The part of your mind in which truth abides is in constant communication with God, whether you are aware of it or not.

The part that listening to the Voice for God is calm, always at rest and wholly certain. It is really the only part there is
. W-p1.49.2:1,2

Listen in deep silence. Be very still and open your mind
. W-p1.49.4:1,2

This reminds me of a passage from the Urtext. Jesus is talking to Helen, and He says to her:

I inspired Bob (refer to elevator man who took Helen down from her apartment) to make that remark to you. (Urtext: The Original Unexpurgated Manuscript As It Emanated From The Mind And Heart of Jesus Christ Of Nazareth, p. 38)

This is so encouraging because it is as reminder that Jesus, indeed, is walking with us all the time.

If it helps you, think of me holding your hand and leading you. And I assure you this will be no idle fantasy. W-p1.70.9:3,4

As far as breathing, yesterday I came across a brief review of a new book of poetry by the American poet, Robert Pinsky. The reviewer just happened to quote the first stanza of his poem, Song.

Air is an instrument of the tongue,
The tongue an instrument
Of the body.
The body

An instrument of spirit,

The spirit a being of the air.

Reading today’s Lesson 125, In quiet I receive God’s Word today, brings it all back to me, the phonetics, the breathing, the words, and I note once again the connection between my past experiences, e.g., the phonetics class, and the present, and how sometimes I feel I have been directed all along.

Since we come to the Course to learn to reverse our thinking, the first thing we need to do is to slow down.

Three times today, at times most suitable
for silence, give ten minutes set apart

from listening to the world, and choose instead
a gentle listening to the Word of God.


First, as we read this passage aloud, we, unconsciously, structure our breathing, i.e., we can only speak the lines by breathing out, and we are silent as we breathe in, preparing to breathe out. Isn’t that amazing? It is so habitual that we have forgotten that we breathe in in order to breathe out.

Secondly, Jesus postures our voice by the way He orders His words. For example, read the title of the Lesson aloud:

In quiet I receive God’s Word today.

First, Jesus is using only 10 syllables for each line; He has been doing this since Lesson 98, and He will continue using this convention for each line of each lesson until the end, Lesson 365. Not only that, but He postures our voice to speak each line by placing each syllable in a particular way, some are STRESSED and some are slack.


Five sets of syllables, basically in a slack STRESS, or iambic pattern. And Jesus, not only slows us down with this rhythmic pattern, but He postures our voice to say the words as He intends. GOD’S VOICE is what’s important here, and we find ourselves emphasizing those two words, whether we know it or not. And at one level, we certainly know it, and this is a reminder.

Only be quiet. You will need no rule
but this, to let your practicing today

lift you above the thinking of the world,

and free your vision from the body's eyes.

When I am looking through my body’s eyes, I am making up a world, unconsciously and habitually, and listening to the wrong voice, my narrative voice, associating, judging, separating, but when I slow down and listen to the Voice of God soothing me into silence, I slow down my breathing, and I can begin to see with vision, seeing a bright reflection of my silent mind.

For the past several weeks, I have been facilitating a class here at Endeavor Academy in the Wisconsin Dells. The class is called, “Listen, Learn, and Write.” It is highly interactive because we are doing writing exercises that enable us to be inspired by the Holy Spirit to express ourselves. At the end of the class a couple of days ago, we were sitting quietly, listening to music after sharing our inspired writing, and suddenly and spontaneously, Peg Elizabeth, a woman who has been at the Academy for some time, said to no one in particular, “Boy, in this class it is easy to get in touch with your soul.” That pretty much sums up what it means to open up and be receptive to spirit.

Peg Elizabeth's sentiment is echoed in a article I came across in the Wisconsin State Journal about Maggie Delaney-Potthoff who teaches voice in a class offered through UW-Madison Continuing Studies. What caught my eye is that she starts and ends her training with emphasis on breathing.

Someone looking in the window of the church’s gathering room, where the class is held, might easily mistake this for a yoga class or some kind of new-age meditation session. (Wisconsin State Journal, May 1, 2011, Section G, Unleash the Scream, Andrea Azni, p. 1.)

Delaney-Potthoff says, “Our voice is directly connected to our soul. The voice is the ultimate instrument. . .I am looking for that natural voice that’s behind the curtain, and all singing takes place through the third eye.” (Azni, p. 2)

Breathe in, breathe out, knowing that you are spirit, the holy breath of God.