What Does “Ruah” Mean, Anyhow?
February 13, 2023
I’ve been a Curriculum Consultant for the Ruah Woods Institute for a couple of years now. When I introduce myself and say, “I work for Ruah Woods,” many times I get a quizzical look back and a question like, “You work for who? Where did that name come from?” or “What does ‘Ruah’ mean?”
In the very beginning of the ministry, the team was together with our Founder and Board President, Tony Maas at the kitchen table, discerning the name for this newly founded Catholic, non-profit organization. Someone mentioned that the word “Ruah” in scripture meant Spirit, Breath. As the discussion went on, talking about the Holy Spirit’s intercession in helping to find the designated location in a wooded area on the westside of Cincinnati, they decided to call the ministry Ruah Woods. Spirit, Breath in the Woods!
Since the new year, I have been listening to “The Catechism in a Year” podcast with Fr. Mike Schmitz. We have heard about God the Father who revealed his name as YH WH. According to an article by Sandra Thurman “…scholars and Rabbis have noted that the letters YH WH represent breathing sounds, or aspirated consonants. When pronounced without intervening vowels, it actually sounds like breathing.” As I began to reflect on that it made me think about how important breathing is to our lives. God builds the spiritual on the natural, teaches us about what we can’t see using what we can see. This is a central concept to Theology of the Body. TOB 19:4 says, “The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”
Breathing is essential to bodily life. The Holy Spirit is essential to our spiritual lives. Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that has breath give praise to the LORD! Hallelujah!” When I thought about this verse after hearing that YH WH represents breathing sounds it all came together in my mind. Without even knowing it, we are saying the name of God, calling out to him, just in our breath, something we do without thinking about it and at the same time is essential to life. God always takes something that is good and makes it into something even better. Think of the water at the Wedding at Cana. Not only did he make it into wine, He made it into the BEST wine. So, what came together in my head is that he takes our very breath, something essential to our survival and makes it into something even better, saying the name of God and praising Him. But wait, there’s more!
Spirit — The Aid in our Weakness
This breathing and saying God’s name gets escalated even more when we are in distress or suffering greatly. From the book of Romans, 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” Inexpressible groanings…can you hear yourself right now? Think back to a time of distress or incredible suffering. I know that in my time of suffering after the loss of my daughter, Adeline, I didn’t know what to say to God. As I responded BODILY with inexpressible groanings, God, in His wisdom, took these groanings and raised them to a level of a prayer: Rom 8:27 “And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” The Holy Spirit, RUAH, the breath of God, takes our own breath and intercedes for us in our weakness. Incredible.
Pray without Ceasing
We certainly cannot always think about our breathing. It kinda even feels awkward when we do concentrate on it. To me, that’s part of the beauty. God gives us this necessary task, breathing, but makes it a task we don’t have to even think about, and connects it to something that is even greater, saying His name. We are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing.” I’ve always wondered how in the world that was possible. Now I know. If we recognize that our breath is saying God’s name and commit that to prayer each morning, we can pray without ceasing, even if we aren’t consciously thinking about it, even if that prayer is in a time of distress or suffering, we continue to say God’s name, we pray without ceasing.
RUAH – Breath, Spirit, Constant
At the Last Supper, Jesus told the apostles that He would send His Advocate: John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always..” This spirit, RUAH, is alive in our world and in our own bodies. He is with us always. We can offer our very breath to Him and allow Him to transform our lives and the lives of those around us every day. We can dedicate every moment of our lives to His Glory by dedicating every breath to Him and His Will. Lord, let every breath, as I speak your name, praise you and bring me ever closer to you and your will and help us, at The Ruah Woods Institute to open the eyes of those we encounter to the beauty of your constant love and presence. Amen.
Regional Curriculum Consultant (South) for Ruah Woods Institute