Deep Breathing

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

 For Diogenes of Apollonia*, God is in the air we breathe.  "My view is that that which has intelligence is what men call air, and that all things have their course steered by it and that it has power over all things," he taught.  "For this very thing I hold to be a god and to reach everywhere and to dispose everything and to be in everything."  Diogenes was closely identified with Greek philosophers who believed that a world-soul brought order to the universe by means of divine respiration, and that we all breathe this same rarified air.  "The air within us is a small portion of the god," Diogenes said.

St. Paul was familiar with Greek thinking and used it to good effect in chiding Athenians for their worship of statuary.  God did not live in shrines made by men, he told them, invoking the Greek poet Aratus.  "Yet he is not far from each one of us," Paul insisted,  "for 'In him we live and move and have our being,' as even some of your poets have said."  St. Augustine used different imagery to express the same idea in his Confessions.  All of creation is like a giant sponge, he wrote, soaking up a "boundless sea" that is God.

Lest St. Paul and St. Augustine be accused of pantheism, a distinction must be made between the idea that everything is God and the idea that everything is in God.  The latter is perfectly consistent with the Christian understanding of a God who is both immanent and transcendent, meaning that he is present in creation but not contained by it. 

Such theological niceties are probably lost on most people; as it is, any sense of God’s immanence is difficult to sustain in a scientific age.  Newton and Darwin have long since laid bare the mysteries of creation.  Whether the universe is regarded as clockwork or some sort of gigantic quantum computer, the machinery pretty much appears to run itself.  Consequently, there is little left for God to do, apart from the odd miracle performed for a dwindling audience of true believers.

No wonder God is so hard to find.  We now worship him from afar, if at all, forgetting what St. Paul had to say to the Athenians: Yet he is not far from each one of us.  Our gods go by different names these days, but they are essentially no different from the statuary that cluttered the shrines in Athens.  Our mistake is in thinking God is to be found only in transcendence, which  effectively puts him beyond our reach, rather than in immanence.   Perhaps the best advice for those seeking God is to keep your eyes open.  And to take a deep breath.

*Not to be confused with Diogenes of Sinope, who wandered around with a lamp in search of an honest man.

Acts 17:22-31

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