Today I had a mystical experience.
I bumped into my friend Horace (name changed to protect the innocent!) outside our church hall. Horace and a few of his friends like to hide behind the hall and drink sometimes, and he’s always passing through our property. Over the last year or two I’ve come to know Horace quite well.
Horace started the conversation by coming to tell me he was quite sober. I guess sobriety’s a relative concept. We had a bit of a chat. Like me, Horace grew up in New Zealand, and he always likes to talk about it. At the end of the conversation, Horace lent in, pointed to his nose, and said, “Give me a hiding.”
I replied, “Why would I want to give you a hiding?”
“Not a hiding!”, he said. “A hongi!”
Now, I’m not that well acquainted with Maori traditions, but I know enough to know that a hongi is a form of greeting involving rubbing noses and foreheads together. It’s more than just the Maori equivalent of a handshake though. It involves exchanging breath, which is a rather intimate act. I believe this has something to do with joining each others spirits together. If any of my Maori friends and whanau out there can explain further, I’d appreciate it!
So there were Horace and I touching faces in a way that some might find awkward. Two things happened.
First, as I shared Horace’s breath I couldn’t help but notice how fruity it was. It wasn’t objectionable. It was sweet yet tart, like a cheap Moselle or a Riesling. It probably was.
Second, I heard a voice say, “Breathe in the Holy Spirit.”
I didn’t hear the voice with my ears. It was inside my head, but it was as clear as anything I’ve ever heard.
Horace shook my hand and walked off, just stopping to turn and yell “WILLIAM BOOTH! GOOD GUY!” as loud as he could.
I couldn’t help but think of the opening chapters of Genesis, in which God creates a creature out of dirt and puts his breath into it, making the first human. The word for ‘breath’ in the ancient texts is the same as the word for ‘spirit.’ God imparted life to our first ancestor by breathing spirit into a bit of dirt. I wasn’t breathing the fumes of Horace’s liquid breakfast. Horace wasn’t breathing the consequence of my not having time to brush my teeth before I left home this morning.
We were sharing the Spirit of God. We were imparting life to one another.
It also brought to mind a song I used to like back in the days when I listened to Christian radio. Not only is the title perfect, but the song pretty well sums everything up too. It’s the Lost Dogs, singing “Breathe deep, the breath of God.” (I can’t embed this—please click through. The song’s wonderful.)