WHEN I WORKED AT THE Navajo boarding high school in New Mexico back in the late 1970s, I noticed that there was an integration of life among the Navajo people. They do not separate life into unrelated sections. The integrated Navajo life is an undivided spirituality into their daily life, in their family, and in communal relationships.
“Walk in beauty,” is a phrase often associated with the Navajo philosophy and the people and their view of life and the world. The Holy Windis the integrating force and the basis on which this philosophy built and stands. The Holy Wind is the integrating element of life. Christians express this idea as God’s Holy Spirit. However, in our culture of disassociated elements of life, the Western civilized world has lost the essence of the words “Walk in beauty” and the hope we find in the “Holy Spirit” or “Holy Wind.”
This is what the people of the Navajo nation mean when they think of the “Holy Wind”:
When the wind ceases to blow inside us, we become speechless. Then we die. In the skin at the tips of our fingers, we can see the trail of that life-giving. Each person has a wind that exists within, which provides the means for breathing, moving, thinking, and talking.
The Christian religion in the United States, in my estimation, has lost that deep sense of integration with the created order. The dissociation of death with life and vice versa, for example, is now the domain of commercial entities. By putting the elderly into storage, separating them from the young and the young from the elderly, an integrated family life is lost. Kicked out of us by the dissociation with the created people often no longer experience the full depth and meaning of the Holy Wind—the Spirit of God.
The ancient Hebrew writers understood that life is integrated and complete. In Hebrew, the word for wind and spirit is the same (Ruach). The earth comes into being when the wind of God blew over the face of the earth. God breathes the wind of life into Adam. The Holy Wind of God awakens the Apostles on Pentecost. The ancients knew that death did not mean the end it is a continuation of life, a different form of being a different way of experiencing the Holy Wind. For example in the apocryphal book, The Wisdom of Solomon, we read,
God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal. God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.
When bad things happen, people often believe the bad is a form of punishment from God. However, when bad things happen, it is more than likely that humanity is the cause. Bad diet, lack of exercise, is the causes of illness, for example. Tearing up the ground cover on the side of hills and mountains can cause floods, building unsafe homes in earthquake areas is the cause of needless destruction and death. As the long ago cartoon character, Pogo, once declared, “I have seen the enemy and it is us.”
God does not willingly afflict us, nor does God wish us to live afflicted lives.Jeremiahreminds humanity, in his Book of Lamentations, of its own responsibilities to protect life.
… [T]his I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘…therefore I will hope in him.’
In that hope,Jeremiah makes this declaration,
For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.
When Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, (as reported in the Gospel according to Mark) seeks Jesus to heal his daughter, he believes in life and has hope. In Jesus, he sees both life and hope. While the mourners at Jairus’ home see only death, end of life, Jesus brings hope and life into the house. Was it a miracle or did Jesus understand the girl’s distress calming her mind bringing her out of a coma? It does not matter; what matters is that Jesus brought life to the mourning family, the distraught father, and the critically ill girl.
Actually, Jesus, wherever he went to heal, feed, or teach, brought peace to the people. It is a peace of mind encapsulated in the words, “Walk in beauty.” The crowd of mourners around Jairus’ home has no hope.Jesus tells the hopeless to leave, he takes peace and hope with him, and we can imagine his gentle voice telling the comatose child to rise, to get up, enjoy life.
Certainly, death is a reality. Everyone will experience it. Every family loses members to illness, accident, natural catastrophe, and recently to distant wars. If God does not bring death, if Jesus raises people from the dead, and if God does not willingly afflict us, why is that we suffer such grief and look forward to our own demise with fear?
For five years, I worked as a chaplain for a hospice. In those five years, I experienced the loss of people about whom I came to care for deeply. Although I knew them for only a brief time, I mourned their loss with their families. Embarrassed by their grief, family members sometimes asked, “Are we not supposed to be happy that mother is now in heaven? Why do we feel so lost and so much grief?” Taking the grief-stricken to a page in The Book of Common Prayer is all I could do. On page 507, there is this note after the Burial Offices:
The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we too, shall be raised.
The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.
The promise of the Scriptures is not eternal physical life. Human beings are organisms like all other living organisms on the planet. Unless you are a redwood or Sequoia tree in California, or a giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands, you will not likely to live much beyond one-hundred years. The Scriptures, in fact, remind us that we can expect to live to seventy or, if we are fortunate, to eighty. Death is a reality for us. In my hospice experience, I saw it in its sometimes-painful form and sometimes as a thief in the night.
Nevertheless, life continues. God did not invent death. God has given us a living spirit that is beyond the mortal life we have been given. The spirit lives in us and in those who have gone before us. In the parlance of today, we could say that the spirit lives on in the gene pool we have inherited and bequeath to our progeny. However, it seems to those who are faithful and believe that God has breathed life into Adam also has breathed his wind into us are more than molecules, genes, and chromosomes, we the living images of the one who created the world.
The Scripture I find most reassuring in the face of our mortality also comes from the apocryphal book, The Wisdom of Solomon,
…the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. … But the righteous live forever, and their reward is with the Lord; the Most High takes care of them. Therefore they will receive a glorious crown and a beautiful diadem from the hand of the Lord, because with his right hand he will cover them, and with his arm he will shield them.”
In the integrated life,Jesus enters it with hope, peace, and healing takes place. In the integrated life, there is no death, even as our mortal bodies age and decay. In the integrated life regardless of the life condition, the choice can always be to “Walk in beauty.”
 Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24, New Revised Version, The Holy Bible, National Council of Churches.
 Lamentations 3:21-24, New Revised Version, The Holy Bible, National Council of Churches.
 Lamentations 3:31-33, New Revised Version, The Holy Bible, National Council of Churches.
 The Book of Common Prayer, The Episcopal Church of theUnited States, 1976.
 Wisdom of Solomon, 3:1-6, the New Revised Version, The Holy Bible, National Council of Churches.
 Wisdom of Solomon, 5:15-16, the New Revised Version, The Holy Bible, National Council of Churches