When Moses was standing barefoot before the burning bush, getting his marching orders against Pharaoh, he asked, “Who shall I say sent me?”
The Voice then identifies itself as Yahweh: “This is My name forever, My title for all generations.”
In the original Hebrew, Yahweh was written without vowels. YHWH was composed of aspirant consonants that mimicked breathing. The YH was pronounced while inhaling and the WH while exhaling.
It was no coincidence that the name for God was said in the act of breathing, for it was ruach, the breath of God, that swept across the Hebrew Scriptures.
It was God breathing life into Adam in Genesis, calling Elijah hiding in the cave, resurrecting the dry bones of Israel in Ezekiel.
There are other Hebrew names for God: Adonai, Elohim, El Shaddai. But YHWH is the one that appears over 6,800 times in the Hebrew Bible.
As the personal name of God, it is considered the holiest, and to this day, many devout Jews will not say it aloud.
But they can breathe it.
Our English word God seems more static, guttural, even harsher than Yahweh. It feels more distant, colder, more like a concept or a rank than something expressing the essence of life.
Perhaps that is why the word God has suffered an etymological degradation to common use as a reflexive curse, an exclamation of surprise, horror, and ironically even disbelief.
In our world today, probably the most common invocation of God is a text abbreviation.
But think of how it would be if we occasionally replaced our uttered God with the unspoken YHWH.
We may find it awkward to request eternal perdition for some annoying thing or person if our “dammit” was preceded only by a deep breath.
The exasperation of our “Oh God” might be lessened as we consciously breathe in and breathe out the same air that has sustained us at every difficult time in the past.
Even in the face of wonder, where “My God!” are the only words that would come to our lips, the breath of YHWH would remind us that this child or that sunset were nothing more than ordinary miracles we just happened to be aware of today.
YHWH, the breath of God.
It is a prayer that reminds us that each one of us began our life with a great gasp for air, and we will end it with one final expire.
YHWH is every breath between.