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Close Enough to Hear God Breathe: The Great Story of Divine Intimacy

Close Enough to Hear God Breathe: The Great Story of Divine Intimacy

3.3 9
by Greg Paul

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In Close Enough to Hear God Breathe



In Close Enough to Hear God Breathe, acclaimed author Greg Paul shows readers through beautiful prose, powerful stories, and inventive teaching a rich message that recounts the story of a God who has been inviting all of humanity-and each individual-into a tender embrace since time began.

God longs for a relationship with each of His children. Our stories matter to Him. Your story matters to Him. Reading the Bible ought to be like putting one's head on God's chest and listening to His heartbeat. Close Enough to Hear God Breathe will help readers do just that. And when they do, they'll hear God whisper, "You are my child. I love you. And I am pleased with you."

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Paul (The Twenty-Piece Shuffle: Why the Poor and Rich Need Each Other) does admirable work in Toronto, where his Sanctuary ministry cares for society's neglected—addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless, to name a few. His newest book asks us to see God as an inviting parent and to have the experience of reading the Bible or knowing God as an invitation to intimacy with a divine father. Paul tells stories of people he has known through his ministry as well as stories from his own life to underscore the point. VERDICT Paul's inspirational work and writing encourage the reader to enter a close relationship with the author and God. His book should be a welcome lesson for pastors and readers interested in questions of social justice in addition to theology.

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Close Enough to Hear God Breathe

The Great Story of Divine Intimacy

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2011 Greg Paul
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4002-0330-7

Chapter One

The Voice from Above

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." —FROM THE GOSPEL OF MARK, CHAPTER 1

There was a crowd, as usual, although dawn had barely broken. Hunkered on the banks of the river, scratching themselves absently and yawning, waiting for him to appear. Narrow ribbons of smoke stretched lazily upward in the still air from the ashes of a dozen small fires made and tended through the cold night. They had missed out the day before, and decided to stay rather than making the long trek back to Jerusalem.

Most had no food, not having thought to bring any, or having eaten what little they had already. The few who did nibbled their crusts surreptitiously, not wanting to be besieged by their hungry neighbors. Some had no food simply because they had trudged through the wilderness to this spot by the Jordan instead of working that day, and so had no money to buy food anyway. They were a ragged bunch, mostly.

A furious rustling in the low, dense bushes lining the opposite bank—a pair of bony hands and one hairy leg emerged, thrust some branches aside, and the rest of the Baptist followed into view. A mutter ran through the crowd. The men stood up, the children stopped their games and stared. The Baptist stared back for a long moment, then nodded, apparently satisfied with what he saw, and turned his back on them.

His hair hung in matted hanks down his back. Everything about him seemed to be the same color as the desert floor. He undressed quickly, giving his ghastly camel-skin jerkin a flap—a cloud of ochre dust drifted away from it—before hanging it as carefully as if it were a linen robe on a branch of the bush from which he had appeared. As he bent to untie his sandals, he presented a pair of pale, scrawny cheeks so perfectly to his audience that a child guffawed. The Baptist gave no sign of noticing, but did procure a scrap of dirty cloth from a leather bag he had been carrying, and girded himself with it.

Seating himself on a rock, he drew the bag to him again, withdrew a small package, and unfolding it, began to eat the contents while gazing into the sky above their heads. He crunched away contentedly for a short while, then returned the cloth wrapper to the bag and licked each finger clean with a loud, delighted smacking sound.

"Locusts and honey," muttered an awestruck young boy to his brother.

The Baptist rose and, with a grin at the mob opposite, leapt into the river. It was only thigh deep, but he submerged himself, then floated face first to the surface. The mud he had disturbed bloomed creamily about him for a moment before the current shredded it and the river resumed its placid olive sheen.

Newcomers were beginning to arrive. They came from everywhere—not only from Jerusalem, but also from all the small towns of Judea, as well as those that dotted the shallow Jordan valley. As they drifted up, usually in small groups, the ones who had spent the night waiting moved quickly to line the bank, eager that the Baptist might choose them early in the day.

Finally standing upright, he began to preach. It was the same simple message they had heard repeatedly the day before. He kept up a running commentary as people waded into the river, as he embraced them, flung them backward into the muddy water, thrust any part of them that had not been submerged under the surface, then yanked them upright again. Always, it seemed, just as he had gotten to a point in his sermon when he could shout "... forgiven!"

The combination of the silty riverbed, the gentle current, and all the activity going on in one spot made it appear that he was slowly sinking. When the ground beneath his feet eroded enough that the water lapped around his ribs, he would clamber out of the hole and move eight or nine long steps upstream, the crowd shifting with him. Each time he did, he stopped baptizing for a while to preach in earnest, and to address the rumor that murmured incessantly through the steadily growing crowd.

"I am only baptizing you with water," he cried, "as a symbol that you have turned your faces away from your wicked ways, and toward God, and so that you will know he has washed you clean—your sins are forgiven! No, I am not Messiah—but he is coming soon! His kingdom is close enough to touch! He will sink you into the Holy Spirit, cleanse you with fire!"

It went on and on. Shortly before the sun reached its zenith, there was a disturbance at the back of the growing multitude on the riverbank. The tattered folk who had stayed the night shrank back from an advancing wedge of richly dressed men, some of them priests. They moved as if by right through the people who had been waiting for hours, making their way to the water's edge.

The Baptist didn't see them until they had reached it and stood there silently, half a dozen of them with their oiled beards, their hands secreted in wide sleeves across comfortable bellies.

He stopped speaking in mid-sentence and let go of the middle-aged woman he had just raised up from the river. She plunged back into it with a squawk, surged sputtering to the surface again, and clambered onto the bank casting murderous, unnoticed looks back at him.

The Baptist had been shouting his message so he could be heard, which makes any man sound angry, but when he found his voice to address the Pharisees, it was higher, harsher, and much, much louder than it had been all morning.

"Snakes!" he bellowed at them. They flinched as one man, but held their position. The Baptist derided their character, accused them of hypocrisy, and threatened them with judgment in rich terms that delighted the rest of the crowd. (Few things are more satisfying than seeing one's social and religious superiors trimmed a bit.) He had just finished telling them that they would be cut down like a barren fruit tree and thrown into the fire—a vein throbbing dangerously at his temple, the spittle flying—and was winding himself up to deliver even more extravagant condemnations when, it seemed, something distracted him.

Faltering to a stop, he turned to look squarely at the man a dozen steps upstream who had been waving circumspectly to him since shortly after he began his harangue. The Pharisees looked relieved, and dared to move a little. Their leader, a portly man with a silver beard and a tall turban, opened his mouth to speak, but the Baptist turned away and began splashing toward the waving man.

He was nothing special to look at. Just an ordinary man of ordinary height, complexion, and hair color. He was dressed just like everybody around him. He didn't seem to be with anyone—in fact, when they talked about it later, those around him who had so jealously guarded their positions at the river's edge weren't quite sure when he had arrived, or how he had made his way in front of them.

The ordinary man and the Baptist conversed quietly, oblivious to the fascinated mob around them. Who was he?

"A Galilean," said someone dismissively who was close enough to hear the accent.

"Ah!" said someone else. "That's his cousin, then. From Nazareth, but lives in Capernaum."

The two appeared to argue in a good-natured way, the man eventually cajoling the Baptist into some kind of agreement. He removed his outer garment and handed it to a young fellow in the crowd who, though he had never met the man before, received it and draped it over his arm as placidly as if he had followed him there for that express purpose. The man stepped into the river, found his footing, and plodded toward the middle, arm in arm with the Baptist.

For once, the Baptist was silent. He embraced the man with both arms, held him tight against his hollow chest, head bowed. Although he had been enthusiastically flinging people of all shapes and sizes into the water for hours, he now seemed reluctant, or perhaps even embarrassed. Gently, the Baptist lowered the man into the water, bending until his own arms were submerged to the biceps; a heartbeat's pause while he was completely out of sight, then the Baptist slowly raised him up again.

He sputtered and blew and rubbed his eyes as had everyone else. He smiled and, placing a hand against the Baptist's hairy cheek, spoke a few inaudible words as if in blessing. Then he turned and began wading toward the bank.

It was all so ordinary, just like the man himself, and yet while he was being baptized, no one else had gone into the river to stand close to the Baptist, as they usually did, in hopes that he or she might be next. There was no rush of people into the water now, either. The crowd stood in a peculiar silence along the banks, unmoving, except for those few who stepped aside to allow him space to climb out. The air itself had become strangely still.

His eyes were turned skyward, over the heads of the people. Those nearest him could see that his lips were moving soundlessly. The Baptist, forgotten for the moment, stood motionless behind him, his hands dangling in the hip-deep water.

There was a tearing sound from above—thunder, perhaps, is what some thought later. A curious purplish cloud formation— which looked like a gash across what had been, as far as anyone could remember, an empty sky only moments before— seemed to flutter open. A dark spot descending quickly from the gash—the "gash" seemed strangely near for a cloud— resolved into a dove, a very ordinary-looking dove, but with it came a gentle breeze, gentle and warm and beautifully moist in the desert air.

The man was smiling broadly, raising his eyebrows and looking up without tilting his head, as well he might, since the dove had landed upon it and sat there cooing comfortably. Several people laughed out loud. He nodded at the ones closest to him who had laughed (the dove undisturbed by the motion), sharing their delight.

The gash in the clouds rippled repeatedly, as a man's heart beats, and each time there was another puff of the warm breeze. As if the sky was breathing upon them. The sky breathed a word into them, all those people standing there looking at the man. With each breath a phrase:

"This is my son. My beloved. I am pleased with him."

They all heard it, though it was so quiet it might have been easily missed. They knew the voice was speaking about the ordinary man, the man who looked like them. Many also heard the breeze speak directly to the man. Hearing it as they did, like the breath within their own bodies, they wondered if it also spoke to each of them:

"You are my child—my son, my daughter. I love you. And I am pleased with you."

Chapter Two

The Heart of The Matter

If every story has certain pivotal moments, moments that clarify everything that has gone before and set up everything that's to come, surely this is such a moment in the story of God's relationship with humanity! This is the moment when the Word-Made-Flesh appears to the world: God's voice, and everything he wants to say to us with it, given a completely accessible, fully human form and substance. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are tangibly—and uniquely—present at this extraordinary event: the voice from above, the man on the riverbank, and the spirit descending "like a dove" from voice to man, connecting them visibly. Here, by the words he chooses, God reveals both his unique relationship with Jesus, and that he intends to relate to us also as a parent does to his or her child.

If the people standing on the bank of the river that day had known before the sky was torn open that the ordinary-looking man coming out of the water was God, I wonder what kind of introduction they might have expected? How about, "Introducing ... The One! The Beginning and the End, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, King of kings and Judge of the nations, Supreme Commander of the Armies of Heaven. He holds the keys of Death and Hell ..."

That would certainly have gotten my attention. How fascinating, how significant it is that God spoke of and to Jesus in the most tender and intimate terms instead: "I want you to meet my boy ..."

As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last [most recent] days he has spoken to us by his Son"—or, as a literal translation would render it, "he has spoken to us in Son." That is, in the language of "Son," the language of intimate, familial relationship.

When Jesus asks John to baptize him, the Baptist is understandably uncomfortable with the notion. Exactly how much he knows about Jesus' true identity before the baptism takes place is unclear, but he certainly realizes that it's Jesus who ought to be baptizing him. After all, of what sins shall Jesus repent?

Jesus says, in essence, "Yes, you're right. But let it roll, because this—my identifying with all the yokels gawking at us from the riverbank—this is how all of God's profound, perfect goodness will be delivered to humanity—to the whole cosmos!"

In this crucial moment, Jesus is not only God-with-Us; he is also, mysteriously and wonderfully, One-of-Us. He stands in that muddy river, disappears beneath its surface, and rises both as a representative of all humanity, and as its salvation. He represents both God and me.

And so, when the Voice from heaven speaks, the message is not only for the unique Son of God, but is also for every human being. This is "the true light that gives light to every man."

When I got through reading the three gospel versions of the story, perhaps in several translations, and past comparing them and imagining the scene, checking the specific meanings of a few key words, browsing through reference works and so on, and put the book down, and sat quietly listening for the sound of God breathing, I heard him say to me—to me!—the same thing he said to Jesus that day.

"You're my child. My beloved. My pleasure."

This is the heart of the matter. This is the message that blows quietly, sweetly through the whole Bible. It's easy to lose it in the strictures of law, the violent stories of the people of Israel, the doom-laden pronouncements of the prophets, or the near-psychedelic foretelling of future events. It's so tender, so gentle, that it's easy to miss it blowing through my own little life story, with all its dramas and distractions.

There are a thousand other voices, most of them much louder and more insistent, that have other things to say about who I am. They say things that are demeaning or discouraging. Sometimes they say things that make me so proud of myself that I forget God is whispering his beautiful message to everyone else too. Sometimes they speak words that cut or bruise my soul, telling me I am unlovely and unlovable—a message I am unaccountably ready to believe. They may be the voices of people close to me, the culture around me, the advertising I can't escape, religion, education, or of my own innate pride or insecurities.

There are so many of these other voices, and they are so constant that I can't escape them. I need new "ears" to be able to hear what God has to say. As with the people of the Baptist's day, it begins with coming to the river of God's grace and being submerged in it. Dying to an old life, an old way of hearing, and rising again to a new life, which can only come as a gift from above. Confessing my sins—admitting that I am too broken to live the identity for which God made me. Repenting—changing the course of my thinking about myself, my world, and my Creator.

My child. My beloved. My pleasure.

It seems as if it should be easy to hear these words and believe them, but it's not. An entire life of discipleship cannot fully mine these three simple expressions. It's the work of a lifetime just to begin to truly believe them.


Excerpted from Close Enough to Hear God Breathe by GREG PAUL Copyright © 2011 by Greg Paul. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Greg Paul is a pastor and member of Sanctuary (Toronto), a ministry where the wealthy and poor share their experiences and resources daily and care for the most excluded people in the city, including addicts, prostitutes, the homeless, and gay, lesbian, and transgendered people.

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Close Enough to Hear God Breathe: The Great Story of Divine Intimacy 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
WereJumpin More than 1 year ago
Greg Paul is a pastor and member of Sanctuary in Toronto, Canada, a ministry where the wealthy and poor share their experiences and resources daily and care for the most excluded people in the city, including addicts, prostitutes, the homeless, and gay, lesbian, and transgendered people. Greg is a former carpenter, a father of four and married to Maggie. He is also an author of two other books: The Twenty-Piece Shuffle and God in the Alley. Close Enough To Hear God Breathe by Greg Paul points out how our God should be viewed as our Father, a parent himself, as we are His Children. Greg breaks down the verses from the Bible and also tells of stories that have happened in his life, which allowed him to get closer to God intimately; but not in a sexually way but with a deep feeling that we should all be with God. Greg also helps us understand how God is here for us when we need him, through good and bad. He also provides Notes and a Reader's Guide at the end of the book. Would I recommend this book? Sure. Everybody reads a book and takes it in differently. I personally enjoyed the book and I hope you do to, if you decide to read Close Enough To Hear God Breathe by Greg Paul. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
jackiekaulitz More than 1 year ago
Close Enough to Hear God Breathe: The Greatest Story of Divine Intimacy is a book that focuses on stories from the author's life. He tells a story about a human parent and their child and then relates that story to how God looks at us, His own children. I found this book quite touching and beautiful. At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it, because the author was relating stories about his own father and himself as the son and I didn't find that story very deep or touching. But as the book goes on, the author begins telling sad and tragic stories about other parents and their children. These stories are touching and may even bring a tear to your eye - especially one about a mother losing her son to drugs, alcohol, then homelessness and a young death at age 40. I'm not certain God relates to us quite like a human parent will relate to their son, but the stories are touching and the analogies are throught-provoking. This book reminds me of the message in the fictional novel The Shack by William P. Young - in that it relates the God-human relationship to human parents and their kids. This book also mentions that God is father and the Holy Spirit is mother and Jesus is like their son. So again, that reminds me of The Shack book. Those who like the Shack will like this book. If you didn't like The Shack, you probably won't agree with this author's analogies. My disclaimer - I received this book from the publisher Thomas Nelson free of charge but I always give honest reviews. I want you to be able to choose the best book based on stars because I know you have limited time and energy to read.
bookendsEL More than 1 year ago
 This book first appears to me as a disconnected and difficult to follow book. But after a few chapters into the book, I begin to appreciate the masterly way in which Greg weaves in a few stories and scriptures into one correlated whole. I must admit it took a while to savor and appreciate this wonderfully intimate work. This is a book to be read slowly, letting the pages sipped through and the characters come alive.  I especially like his chapters on The Beauty of a Broken Mirror, Chocolate Rosebuds, Striking off the Chains and Plastic Pop Bottles. Greg’s human episodes brings out his points vividly and poignantly. In these pages, I see God’s love for us in a very real and touching way. For Greg to write in this way, he must have an intimate and experiential knowledge of God, especially on God’s love, the sheer pleasure of redeeming something others can only see as junk (pg 134) – that’s God all over.  I would strongly recommend this book to those who want to grow in experiencing God’s love for us. 
stephster More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully written book that tells of the author's personal experience with God. His God is an intimate, loving God, not the God of punishment or judgment. The book is filled with lovely, personal anecdotes written with heart, many of them quite poignant. It's thoughtful, well-written and digestible. While you can read all the way through, it's also a book you can pick up and turn to a random page for inspiration and food for thought. (Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising")
RitaReviews More than 1 year ago
The story of the book, Close Enough to Hear God Breathe by Greg Paul is one of redemption. Not really the one time redemption that Christians commonly refer to in Christ, but the kind of redemption that continues to happen throughout our lives. Paul divides his book into five sections: The Heart of the Matter, Creation, The Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. His stories are centered around personal anecdotes from his life in ministry as well as from his personal life. Stories of love, loss, and redemption. The story that Greg Paul tells in this book is one that is very familiar with Christian books of substitution theologies and personal salvation. There were some stories and ideas in the book that I could really connect with, and there were others that I could not reach past the theological statements of ‘everything happens for a reason’ to find their redemptive qualities. Paul often speaks of his own family and people he encounters through his ministry to illustrate his stories. Often, he offers up a problem, his old thought process, an enlightening personal redemption story, and then a new thought process. While none of this is necessarily wrong, it becomes predictable and repetitive throughout the book. I had really wanted to try and like this book but just couldn't bring myself to.
kdwhatley More than 1 year ago
Close Enough To Hear God Breathe by Greg Paul. The story of divine intimacy. I really wanted this book to be good, but to be totally honest it was not. It seemed more like the life story of the author with some scripture thrown in. Mr. Paul is a pastor of Sanctuary in Toronto. It is a ministry where they help drug addicts, homeless, and other troubled people. Some of the stories in the book were moving and thought worthy. When he speaks of the death of his father was the only thing I could relate to. The author talks of sailing and drinking wine, his divorce, and his children. When he talks of his daughter, Rachel when she was small felt real to me. In one chapter "Erotica" he describes the Song Of Solomon in an extremely sensual way. I made me very uncomfortable. I think it's more about love. Another part made me uneasy was when he talked about going to eat with a wedding party after a wedding. He said he watched the bride and groom as the ate and talked with family knowing they just wanted to get out of their and consummate their marriage. Kinda creepy for a pastor, I think. The book jumps around with no flow. It was a hard read. It was small and could have been read in just a few hours. It took me almost a week, never being able to enjoy it. I appreciate the chance to read the book and give my honest review, but I would not recommend this book. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
elise067 More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading "Close Enough to Hear God Breathe", a new book by author Greg Paul and the first book I've read by him. The book is quite well written, as he recounts and retells stories throughout, Bible stories as well as his own personal life stories and from his family. I felt the age old Bible stories I know by heart and am familiar with were not only brought to life, but I felt I was able to see and apply them in new and different ways than I have before. Through the stories, Bible verses and accounts, one of the main messages Greg Paul is bringing out is the great love God has for each of us personally and individually and how He longs for that close communion with us, for us to be close enough to hear His whispers. I deeply appreciate this in this day and age when there is so much going on around us and it can be easy for me to "forget" and to get caught up in the day to day. I have enjoyed this book as an addition to my times of daily devotional and have been strengthen and encouraged by it.
poohbeargirl More than 1 year ago
The title of the book is poetic and catchy, but I don't feel it relates well to the book. A title like "Is God Like Human Parents?" would very accurately describe this book. This book is broken into 5 Parts (1 The Heart of the Matter, 2 Creation, 3 The Fall, 4 Redemption, 5 Consumation) with 3 chapters in each part. The book is full of parent-child stories and is not very deep, so it makes for a quick read. The idea behind this book is to look at God as if he were a human parent and to look at us humans as his children. Each chapter begins by telling a human parent-child relationship story and then ends by explaining how God views us humans in a similar way. I'm not sure of the theological accuracy of this book, and I'm sure many will have disagreements with relating God to human parents, but it does make for an interesting read. At the end of each chapter, you stop and go: Does God really think/feel/behave like human parents in this way? As an example: Part 2's first story tells a story of how the author adores his son because the son is a reflection of himself, then concludes that God must adore humans because we reflect God. The second story is of the author's cold unemotional father who provides physically for his family but is so hard-headed that his sons don't speak to him for 3-25 years!!! BUT the author concludes that his own human father loved all his kids because he provided for them physically. So the author says although God is distant, doesn't speak to us, is unemotional and much like his cold father, that God also provides for us physically, so God must love us. Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from the publisher but I am giving my honest review.