The Spiritual & Sacramental Choir of the Body of Christ
by Christopher Hoyt
For the modern English speaker, the words "wind," "breath," and "spirit" each conjure a different sort of mental image. "Wind" may summon up the picture of tree limbs swaying in the breeze. For "breath," one might imagine a windowpane fogged by exhalation or a diagram of human lungs. "Spirit" conveys still another sort of idea: Scrooge's midnight visitors or a genie from a lamp. In our minds, these three—wind, breath, and spirit—are sharply differentiated ideas that do not overlap much with one another, and our evolving English language has assigned a separate term to each.
But in the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek it was not so. The single Greek word pneuma or Hebrew word ruach embraced all three of these concepts: the currents of air that travel to and fro across the earth, the respirations of the body, and the life that transcends the flesh. The vocabulary of the biblical authors thus furnished a single, composite word-idea that our language has divided into three. One can see this in our English translations of John 3:8, which often supply two different renderings of the Greek word pneuma: "The wind [pneuma] blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit [pneuma]" (NKJV).
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Christopher Hoyt is the author of Under Authority: Practicing Submission in a Rebellious Society (Anglican Liturgy Press, forthcoming). He teaches the humanities at Good Shepherd School (Reformed Episcopal) in Tyler, Texas. He is the general editor of the hymnal The Book of Common Praise/Magnify the Lord, an Adjunct Professor of Sacred Music at Cranmer Theological House (Reformed Episcopal), and the organist/choirmaster at Good Shepherd Church in Tyler.
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