…Womb of Life, our Sovereign, how exalted is your Name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8:1, translation from Wilda C. Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year A)
How to you spell the sound of breathing? When God reveals God’s name to Moses, it is spelled “YHWH,” and theologians have speculated that in addition to meaning “I am who I am,” it represents the sound of breath. For ancient Hebrews and modern Jews, the name was considered too sacred to speak out loud. Instead it was whispered, or replaced with the word “Adonai,” Lord.
Of course, if it is the sound of breathing, we are saying God’s name all the time.
Psalm 8 is usually translated as “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth,” because for centuries, English translators followed the convention of not printing the sacred name YHWH and substituting the word “Lord.”
But one of the negative consequences of that choice is that over and over, the title “Lord” — patriarchal, authoritarian, dominating — replaces the sound of the breath of God. Lifetimes of repetition shape the way we understand the nature and character of God. It is no wonder American Christians are so reluctant to let go of the image of an authoritarian male God.
In Dr. Gafney’s translation above, she has reconnected the name of God with the biological process of life. “Womb of Life” is a fitting substitution. Rather than saying “Lord, our Lord,” we affirm that God is not like other lords. Instead of a tough guy who deals in punishment and death, we address the Source of all life. In Psalm 8, the Sovereign we worship is one whose greatest defense comes “out of the mouths of babes,” not from the weapons of warriors.
It’s an image much more consistent with the babe in the manger. The name of God is already on his lips with his very first breath.
Womb of Life, gestate for us a new way of being in the world.
—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr.