Where the Spirit Blows

Wheat-field-and-lonely-tree-Free-Wheat-Wallpaper-Packimage courtesy of technospot.net 

At the dawn of the New Year, the lectionary schedule of readings calls our attention to a number of fresh starts in our sacred history. The beginning of Genesis offers a poetic description of God creating the heavens and the earth. The beginning of Mark gives us a crisp narrative description of the rise of John the Baptizer, and the emergence of his cousin Jesus as the Messiah.

Years ago, I heard someone else talk about the role of the wind in these two texts; it’s interesting to reflect upon that connection.  The first sentence of Genesis ends with the words, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters,” or alternatively, “the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.” In Mark’s gospel, in the tenth verse of the first chapter, the “spirit,” alternatively, the “breath” or the “wind” descends like a dove on the newly baptized Jesus.  In either text, the spirit or wind appears not as a disembodied shadow, but something – or Someone – so real and powerful that it stirs the mighty oceans, and rips apart the air through which it races.

When I think about my experience of wind, I cannot help but think of the six years I lived in Wichita, Kansas. Therese and I lived in the neighborhood known as College Hill, which one real estate guide described with the adjective “venerable,” large trees and mature gardens flanking 1920s-era brick homes of varying sizes and styles. There were tile-roofed stucco homes like you might see in the southwest, and grand Tudor-style homes like you might see in the northeast. But there was one thing about venerable College Hill that never let you forget you were living on what had been, for thousands of years, a tallgrass prairie. That one thing was the wind.

The wind was such a constant feature of life that I was surprised to step off a plane in another state and not hear it or feel it.  It had enough of an impact on my psyche that after moving from Kansas, it emerged as the topic for a piece I composed during a writer’s workshop at Ghost Ranch, our Presbyterian Conference Center in New Mexico.

In the style of a Judy Collins poem, I wrote:


  Blowing fresh-mown grass along the sidewalk,

    Whirls of redbud petals herald my newborn daughter’s homecoming

      Like puffs of pink butterflies.


  Blowing hot breath across hills and prairie,

    Tall grass ripples and breaks

      Like waves on a golden ocean.


  Blowing through twisted shrubs

    Leaves crackle,

      Caught in woody stalks of faded mums.


  Blowing ice crystals tinkle against the windowpanes

    With the timbre of tiny chimes,

      And pierce my cheeks like bits of glass.

Blowing, blowing in the morning,

  Blowing in the afternoon,

    Blowing in the evening,

      Blowing through the night.

If the world were reversed,

  If the pilgrims had sailed east,

    And czars had conquered the west,

      Kansas would be Siberia.

Now, if you listened to all that, then surely you sensed my ambiguous feelings about the Kansas wind.  A springtime puff wafting flower petals was a rare pleasure. More often, wind seemed to spread the scorching heat of summer or the biting cold of winter. In a committal service at a Kansas grave, the wind accentuated the sense of abandonment that a mourner might feel, a howl of grief for which there was no easy answer.

The wind can be a symbol and expression of abandonment, and scholars tell us that it was during a time when God’s people heard the howling winds of change that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the bible, took their final form. It was the time of the Exile, when Israel’s political and military power had reached a low point, and its hope for a prosperous and peaceful future seemed lost. In that period, sacred history and stories stretching back over a thousand years were collected and joined together into a cohesive whole. In the process, there was a “howl of grief” never far from the thoughts of the editors, a pain that might be summed up in the question, “How will God save his people?”

The Creation Story of Genesis chapter one must have had special meaning to those living in exile.  The priestly editors who wove it in as a prologue to the book of Israel’s beginnings knew the world in which they lived to be chaotic, something of a “formless void.”  But they also spoke with faith that God who had not abandoned them entirely.  They believed that out of the formless void, a wind rose, a wind that was not empty and destructive, a wind in which God was present to stir the seas, and to sculpt beauty from shapelessness.

In our lectionary reading from the Gospel of Mark, a similar creative and redemptive power is displayed at the baptism of Jesus. Here, the powerful wind is identified as the Holy Spirit who rips apart the heavens to descend upon Jesus, dripping with the waters of the Jordan.  In baptism, Jesus is revealed as God’s answer to howling grief, God’s pledge of hope and healing to those who feel spiritually abandoned.

When we administer the sacrament of baptism, we say, “In baptism God claims us, and seals us to show that we belong to God.” That’s some of the best news we could ever hear, for, as the liturgy goes on to say, “God frees us from sin and death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.” It’s an amazing gift of grace, which we are called to treasure and carefully steward.

Today, we ordain and install new ruling elders and deacons. Those of you being ordained and installed carry a special responsibility in helping us practice wise stewardship of God’s good news of hope and healing.  We pray that your time of service may be marked by participation in many enriching experiences.   But even when faced with moments of pain and loss, you are charged to lead this congregation in proclaiming that even then, we can and must trust in God’s healing grace.

This past week, like any week, there were stories of good combating evil, and faithful servants of God witnessing to God’s grace in trying circumstances.

Think of the people of Paris terrorized by extremists. Journalists, cartoonists, and police officers murdered because of satirical cartoons. No matter your feeling about the publication or its targets for ridicule, we sympathize with expressions like that of Italian Premier Matteo R.: “All the free world is crying. All men and women who believe in freedom and reason are crying.”

Think of the people of New York, holding funerals and mourning in the wake of the assassination of two NYPD police officers. Wenjian L. was the only child of his parents, who called his father at the end of each shift to tell him he was all right, the first Chinese-American NYPD officer killed in the line of duty. Rafael R. had trained at Faith Evangelical College and Seminary, and was working to become a police chaplain.

Closer to home, think of seven-year-old Sailor G., crashing in that little plane in a Kentucky forest, losing her parents, sister, and cousin in the wreckage, walking through briar patches and ditches to the light of a nearby home. In her hometown of Nashville, Illinois, and in her little Lutheran church, many lifetime friends, schoolmates, and neighbors lamented Sailor’s injuries and the loss of her family members, saying they had touched everyone in that community. A family representative asked for privacy and prayers, saying, “We are devastated by this loss, but are confident that they rest in God’s loving arms” …. Please pray for us, especially for Sailor.”

We pray that Sailor, and the people of New York and Paris, will begin to feel God’s healing grace in the weeks and months ahead.

We, too, face our own losses, and need to be rescued from abandonment in the “formless void,” in the frightening, lonely places through which life’s journey sometimes leads us.  The good news of the gospel is that Someone has swept across the water, and ripped through the heavens, to transform loneliness with divine presence. It is the Spirit of the living God, who blows into our lives today, picks us up in swirling currents and eddies of healing and hope, then blows us out to share the message, to engage in ministry, to be Christ for the world today.


~ by JohnH1962 on January 11, 2015.

2 Responses to “Where the Spirit Blows”

  1. Nice poem. I liked it.

  2. Thanks! Nothing like a great teacher and a week in the wilderness to get some writing done.

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