Breathing in

I’ve been working on a piece with multiple voices. As part of the compositional process I was trying to capture the breath of the voices. Now when we record breath, if it’s an outward breath, the recording devices find it hard to capture it. This has to do with the nature of sound itself, since sound is dependent on the movement of air. So capturing wind that moves upon the recording device normally doesn’t sound that great.

However if the breath moves away from the device, I can capture a more faithful record(ing) of the sound. So within the piece, I started capture the sounds of breathing in. The voices were amongst other things, reading out the story of Pentecost, where the narrative speaks of God’s Spirit coming upon the early church.

God’s Spirit is his breath. A lot of the characterisation of the Spirit is as someone who comes upon people giving them gifts and energy to do things. This is a breathing out of God. However is there any sense in which God breathes in?

Well, God smells. This statement is necessarily ambiguous because smell itself is ambiguous. However here it means that God smells what we do. And smell happens because of an intake of breath. God smells the fragrance of sacrifices. The first mention of God smelling is Gen 8:21 with Noah. There are loads of verses in Leviticus: 1:9, 2:2, 3:5 and so on. It’s dotted through the rest of the Old Testament clearly echoed in Ephesians 5:2 and Phillippians 4:18. There is the more ambiguous story in John 12:3 where Mary anoints Jesus with the perfume.

This intake of breath is part of God’s relationship with us. It is almost a benchmark of relationship where things done to ruin the relationship are considered a stench. However beyond the realm of smell is there a sense in which God breathes us?

Not as dramatically as Jesus breathing upon his disciples. However, there is a sense in which the Spirit is breathing with us (Romans 8) and drawing the whole of creation back to God. In a meta-sense this is God’s breathing in. Our prayers are breathed into God by his own breath. As he gives life, he draws us into his life. We are being breathed in by God.

Intimacy with another has a lot to with smell. When I give my wife and daughters hugs I take their smell in. I take them in. Their presence infuses my body as I breathe them in. So can we say that God smells us into himself. As we sacrifice ourselves he breathes us deep into his own self.

As a pleasing odor I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations

Ezekiel 20:41

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