Book Review: Breath of Life

Book Review: Breath of Life

Author: Rabbi Rachel Timoner

Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557257048

Breath of Life: God as Spirit in Judaism

This is the third book I’ve read of the six that have been published by Paraclete Press in a series on the subject of the Holy Spirit in various faith traditions (see here and here for reviews on other titles I have read). I have intentions of reading and reviewing all of them eventually, but at this juncture, I can report that I am greatly impressed with the series thus far.  Each of the three titles I have read are very scholarly, but not difficult to read and respectfully objective with regard to viewpoints outside the particular tradition they are written.

As the subtitle reads, Breath of Life is written from the Jewish perspective. My history and tradition is of the Christian persuasion, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began Breath of Life. What I did find, was not only refreshing, but in many ways revolutionary, even to the point that some of my theology concerning the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) has been changed. Perhaps it might be better stated instead of revolutionary, I rephrase my new awareness as evolutionary.

Why the change?

What was it that brought me new awareness that would change my thinking about the Holy Spirit? I think a general understanding of what is meant by “spirit” from the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) was very influential. Rabbi Timoner shares much in the introduction that helps to shed light on some of the translation issues we encounter; this was enlightening to me. Another influential point was the Rabbi’s writing in Part One – Creation: Breath of Life; specifically the chapters two through four were very poetic and extremely moving to me. My intellect, my emotion, and my spirit were all equally moved as I read and learned things I had not considered before about the movement and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Chapter Two, Spirit In Us, was a very moving essay uniting the creation of humankind with the Spirit of God. I think there was nothing revelatory here for me, but the way that Timoner expressed this “union with God” was especially moving for me and helped establish a foundation from which to build upon for the rest of the book.

“God creates our spirit within us, a spirit that sustains us with vigor and that can turn us toward God in steadfastness. When we pay attention to our spirit within us, we find ourselves yearning to be in God’s presence.” -Rabbi Rachel Timoner; Breath of Life (p. 37)

As I continued to enter into deeper trust with this writing, I realized that I was paying attention to the spirit within me…as I was attentive to this spirit, I noticed God the Spirit speaking wisdom to me through Rabbi Rachel’s words. I was enchanted by the aspects of community and relationship that she highlighted again and again as one of the trademarks of the movement of God’s Spirit.

“Jewish tradition claims that God is speaking to us all the time. According to Midrash, the moment at Sinai has never ended. God’s voice continues to echo through the world, and it is up to us to listen for how we should live.” -Rabbi Rachel Timoner; Breath of Life (p. 65)

Chapter Seven, Finding Purpose through the Spirit, was another very meaningful chapter to me. I think I would summarize it to say that Timoner teaches that we are all imbued with God’s Spirit. How we respond and interact with God’s Spirit determines the destiny we will live into. She closes the chapter with these words; “Our task is to use the measure of ruach we’ve been given to reach for understanding, to look for miracle, to listen for God, to discern beneath the surface of life our portion of God’s purpose. Some people have been given an extra measure of ruach, enabling them to do extraordinary things. All of us have been given enough to be able to understand God’s revelation—to align ourselves with God’s greater purpose, making ourselves instruments to do good.” (p. 93)

Final Thoughts

This is not a very long book, but it is one that has taken me a long time to read. I have wanted to savor it, not rushing through it, so I could start my next project. I’m glad that I have taken my time; being deliberate and allowing plenty of time for reflection has been rewarded (in my opinion) with a more robust and enriched understanding of how God’s Holy Spirit works in and among humankind. This is certainly a book that I highly recommend for those who are looking to deepen their relationship with God. In fact, I recommend the entire Holy Spirit series from Paraclete Press.


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