“In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, . . . then the Lord God formed [humankind] from the dust of the ground and breathed into [their] nostrils the breath of life, and the [human] became a living being.”Genesis 2:4b, 7, NRSVUE
In high school, one of my teachers shared with the class the theory that we were inhaling air particles that William Shakespeare had breathed. While we could not prove this theory with empirical testing, it stands on solid scientific and mathematical logic, as James Lloyd indicates in the article “Are We Really Breathing Caesar’s Last Breath?” 
Our human bodies live on a planet where we share the same air with one another as well as with all other living things. A breath brings the earth into our bodies and our bodies into an atmosphere, oceans, trees, and animals. As we breathe, that air creates contact between our nostrils and throats, internal organs and extremity tissues, traveling in one form or another through our whole bodies. Breathing connects our bodies with every part of ourselves and with a world of life.
This level of embodied connection is mind-blowing to me. It flouts the story of radical independence that American society likes to tell, along with the borders this society builds between different groups of people. Our embodied lives are intricately intertwined through breaths we share, not only with every person and creature alive today, but also with multitudes of people and creatures before and after us. Our breaths matter. Our bodies’ turn to share and steward this air matters. Our breath can bring healing and transformation. It can add laughter to the air. It can lament and protest. It can sing.
Through this lens of our breath, the Genesis 2 story of God creating human beings becomes all the more profound: “Then the Lord God formed [humankind] from the dust of the ground and breathed into [their] nostrils the breath of life, and the [human] became a living being” (v. 7, NRSVUE). The composer of this narrative envisions divine breath as the source of human breath. For the Genesis storyteller, human beings do not just inhale and exhale a God-created atmosphere; we breathe air breathed by God. Our life comes from God’s own breath, and that breath sustains every breath we breathe.
What might it mean for God to be that close to us? To our bodies? What might it mean for God to be intricately connected to us through breaths we share with all other people and living things? What might it mean for the breath that we believe raised Jesus from death to be in the air we are still breathing today?
Although the Genesis story offers us suggestive imagery rather than scientific or historical facts, it invites us to explore a portrait of a God who cares about every breath that flows through our bodies. This God made us for a life of interconnected breaths and air shared. This God has decided that our breaths matter. That’s how much this God loves our bodies.
So, to riff on poet Mary Oliver , what will you do with your turn to share and steward our God-breathed air today?
Notes and Credits
1. James Lloyd, “Are We Really Breathing Caesar’s Last Breath?” BBC Science Focus (Jul. 12, 2017), https://www.sciencefocus.com/planet-earth/are-we-really-breathing-caesars-last-breath.
2. An allusion to the question Mary Oliver poses in her poem “The Summer’s Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon, 1992).
Scripture quotation is from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
Header image is by Mila Young on the Unsplash website