Path of the Spirit: Our environment witnesses to the sacred – Las Cruces Sun-News

Posted By on October 15, 2022

Gabriel Rochelle| Path of the Spirit

Fish dont think about the water they live in. Its their environment. Birds dont think about the air they live in. Its their environment. People dont think about the air they breathe in. Its their environment. And yet

There is a way of understanding our human environment that is sacred and spiritual. The personal name of God in Judaism is not pronounced aloud for fear of getting it wrong, which would amount to blasphemy. It is but four letters of the Hebrew alphabet, one of which is duplicated, as you can see even in English transliteration. These are all vowels, breath-marks. The word is YHWH, and it is called the sacred tetragrammaton. Jewish teachers of past and present have, however, noted that the way these letters fall together emulates the act of inhaling and exhaling air, the very act of breathing itself. For the rabbis, our breathing takes place within the presence of God.

You dont have to accept the word God if it is a problem for you. But please contemplate that rabbinic notion that we are surrounded by and live within the realm and power of the sacred. Think about that as you breathe today. Without that breath we are bereft of life. Thats the message of the opening chapters of Genesis: God has given us the breath of life. We are living beings (Genesis 2:7). This is our fundamental connection to the holy. That connection can be known in this life before we run out of breath.

In Celtic prayers there is a form called the caim. People familiar with the great hymn called St. Patricks Breastplate, know the form because it is embedded in the hymn. The caim is a circling of oneself with the presence of God as known in Christ Jesus by Christians. Its a reminder of what the rabbis have taught us. Here are some of the words:

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, The Prayer of the Hours is said at the conclusion of the short services of psalms and liturgical hymns that mark different times during the day. The line that underscores the idea that we are surrounded by the presence of God is, compass us about with thy holy angels, that guarded and guided by their legions we may attain unity of the faith and the knowledge of thine unapproachable glory. Again, you dont have to buy into angels to get the sense of presence and sustenance this prayer conveys to mind and heart.

There is another twist to the tale. Where is the source of compassion, of feeling with others, if not in our shared humanity? And where is our shared humanity if not that we are all given the breath of life? Thats the basic truth. Then, if we are surrounded by and infused with the presence of God, so is everyone else. So are all living beings. That may mean more than the animals among whom we live but it certainly doesnt mean anything less than them. The presence of God is as challenging as the presence of other people in our lives. We cannot dismiss or ignore the presence oft he Holy even if we refuse to call it by the customary religious terms. In embracing others, we experience the embrace of the Holy; and in the embrace of the Holy we are prepared to be more open to the presence of others.

More Path of the Spirit:

Fr Gabriel Rochelle is retired priest of St. Anthony of the Desert Orthodox Church, Las Cruces. Contact him at

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Path of the Spirit: Our environment witnesses to the sacred - Las Cruces Sun-News

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