Modern: Schleiermacher on Dependence
“When we find ourselves to be absolutely dependent…there are therein combined our own finite being and the infinite being. The feeling of dependence is not accidental, but is an essential element of human life, and does not even vary from person to person, but is identical in all developed consciousness.
-Schleiermacher, Friedrich and D.M. Baillie (Translator). The Christian Faith in Outline. 1831.
Ancient: Genesis 2:7
Introduction spoken by Rose: This is a passage from the book of Genesis. It uses the word “man” in it, but it isn’t a place holder for “humanity.” In this story, man is created first, and from his body, the woman’s. The brand of feminism I know includes men. (Plus, on a side note, in this story a man creates another being from his body. And in our world, only female people get to give birth. So don’t let any body tell you the bible isn’t LGBTQ friendly.)
“Then God formed a man from the dhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhPBLJPoDnsust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
Several years ago, I went swimming in the blue clear water of the Guadalupe River, in Texas. I swam upstream, and found myself going over an underwater cliff. The water got shallow, turned pale yellow, and I stood on this ledge and continued upstream on foot. I came to another ledge, this one at chest level, that had water flowing over it. I climbed up there, and saw that this ledge was indented with deep pools that the water ran through. Some of the pools were long, so you could float down downstream and see people’s feet at eye level. I was floating down one of these longer pools, when a giant rock blocked my passage. I climbed out and stood above on the ledge and watched as a young boy disappeared underneath the rock, and appeared again on the other side. He had gone through an underwater passageway. I wanted to try, so I jumped in, dunked under, and I dove downward through the hole. The little boy’s body was slim, but mine was too wide at the hips. And I got stuck.
Schleiermacher says, that we ought to seek out what is most precious through our deepest needs. That we name the divine by naming our absolute dependency.
And let me tell you, in that moment, what I was absolutely dependent on, was air. I needed breath more than I needed anything else. More than I’d ever needed anything so absolutely.
So, Schleiermacher, I would name the breath as the most precious thing in my world. And I wouldn’t be the first, because whole religions are founded on the breath, whole religions use the breath as a spiritual practice.
As the story goes in the ancient text we are reading here today, “God formed a man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
So, this sermon could stop right here, because there is little that we dependent more on than our breath. So, we could just say, we found it! We found the window into the soul of the universe, it’s the breath. BUT, the hebrew word for breath, ruach, has more than one meaning. It’s translated into English in many ways, but in Hebrew, it’s all one word. So, if we want to go deeper into the poetry of this book, and to better understand absolute dependence, then we can turn to these other meanings of the word ruach. For they are different angles on the same idea.
Ruach is also translated as “spirit.”
Listen to the passage again, this time with our second translation: “God formed a man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the spirit; and the man became a living being.”
Whatever it is that touches the spirit is absolutely necessary for life. Whatever reminds you of your spirit ought to be central to your life. Maybe it’s family, maybe it’s being present to the moment, meaningful work, maybe it’s loving ourselves…Whatever that thing is that touches your spirit, that things absolutely is our lives. Being close to the things that we love in this world is the only way we become a truly living being.
Secondly, ruach is translated as “wind.” Listen once more. “God formed a man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the wind; and the man became a living being.” What would it mean to understand our breath to be as mighty, as powerful, as a hurricane, as gentle and warm as a breeze? The very fact that we breathe air and eat the fruits of this earth show us our deep earthen connection to our bodies and the body of the earth. One needs only to listen to the wind pushing through the curtains on a spring night to understand how sacred it is that we carry within us the same ability to move the air with our bodies. That sacred wind flowing in and out of our nostrils, reminding us, constantly, of our own power and agency.
Yes, it is beautiful to think about being dependent upon the spirit, to need art or love like one needs breath, it is beautiful to recognize ourselves as wind-makers, but there is one translation of ruach that I love the most. It is this meaning of the word breath that saved me when I could not breathe. For, ruach, breath also means “courage.”
When I was stuck beneath that rock, I couldn’t summon the “breath” part of ruach. That connection to my life-force was gone. So, instead I summoned the “courage” part.
And it saved me…one moment, I was stuck, my hipbones pushing against the rocks, panicking, and, then, I summoned my courage from somewhere with in me, pushed forward with all my strength, freed myself, and swam upwards to the air.
Listen again to the passage: “God breathed into the man’s nostrils courage, and the man became a living being.”
First courage, then living. The logic of this passage is that in order to live, we need courage. We need courage like we need breath. If we aren’t courageous in our lives, then we are experience a loss of a life, that is different but similar to the loss of not having breath.
But I don’t have to tell you about courage, because you know how courageous you’ve had to be. I know that you all have been incredibly courageous in your lives, and not because you were called to be a hero, but because it was required of you to live.
We don’t only need courage when we’re stuck beneath a rock, we need it in our everyday lives. We need courage look at our bank account, to be honest, to invite people over, we need courage to face illness, to ask for forgiveness, to create a truly beloved community that includes all people, we need courage all the time. Courage is so linked to life force, that it could be thought of as part of a spiritual practice.
It’s not a bad thing, it’s not bad to have to be courageous. It’s great. It means that we are connected to our life. It means that we’ve got something on the line that we care about.
I wonder, what do you need to be courageous about, right now? As the holidays approach, and the year turns, what would you do if you were to really be courageous?
However it is that we came be, we are the earthen vessels of courage and breath that we are. We are meant to breathe deeply. I remember those first breaths, that I pulled those breaths in from inside me. And that is where our courage comes from, too. We are earthen courage vessels, and we have a choice, to be courageous in our lives, or to experience a type of death.
It is my hope that we all recognize how precious our lives are, how beautiful it is to be in this co-creative relationship with the air, with our lives. And I hope we have courage, because we can break free of the thing that get us stuck, we can rely on our courage to bring us to places we thought we off limits to us. And we can go back to breath at any moment, and be fed by the air. Any breath we take can be a comfort that is perfect. And if you can’t summon your courage, summon the breath, and breathe deeply, and see where that gets you. If you can’t feel your life force, be courageous, and see if that makes you feel it. And, when the time comes when you no longer have breath, summon your courage.