Last week a great wind blew over the island. It came up quite suddenly at dawn and seemed to surprise all of creation.
Australian pines, great sentinels guarding the creatures of our pond, bent low as the wind caught them unaware. The Queen Palm's fronds whirled frantically around her head as the sound of the wind picked up even more. With wings tucked in and claws tightly grasping branches, the lone egret and large family of ibis hunkered down - even as their heads remained alert and turning - almost as if they too wondered at the sudden transformation around them.
Leaves blew by me, palm fronds fell to the ground, sand kicked up - the wind enveloped all.
Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan
Remember the movie "Chocolat," produced around the year 2000? A young mother and her daughter came into a little town in France in a violent windstorm, and at the end of the movie almost departed the town in a windstorm. I remember the images of them huddled together against the force of the wind, heads down, coats flapping open, as they walked up the grey twisting streets of the village toward the shelter of their new home.
Wind seemed to have become the motivating force in their lives, forcing them to move again and again and again, until they finally knew when it was time to stay. The wind in the movie became a spiritual entity for me, even as the chocolate delights the mother crafted became the tangible images of her care and compassion for the lonely, rigid, and heart-weary townspeople.
Wind has always intrigued humanity and religions have often given God-like, spiritual attributes to wind, breezes, spirits and the breath of life itself. The Hebrew word "ruach" may be a soft wind or spirit: "A spirit glided past my face ... it stood still but I could not discern its appearance." (Job 4:15)
It may be a life-giving wind: "Thus says the Lord to these bones, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live." (Ezekiel 37:5)
Or it may signify the very presence of God: "They heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze." (Genesis 3:8)
In the New Testament "pneuma" - the Greek word for wind, breath, life and even soul - transformed over the centuries and became a vital spiritual image for Paul and John especially. In John 3:8 "pneuma" becomes a life-giving power from God not controlled by us humans - "the wind blows where it chooses."
Whether centuries ago or now, the forces of nature often offer us tangible images that assist us in trying to understand that which is beyond our comprehension. And so it is with wind, helping us to understand, albeit in some small way, the intangible and powerful encounters with God. Powerful winds, like last week, can force us to sit up and take notice of the sacred in the ordinary.
However, daily breezes, softer winds, and the vital breath that keeps us alive can also serve as spiritual reminders to open up and breathe in the Spirit of God pulsing all around us in one another. Even Elijah in his cave needed to be reminded of the sacred in the still air - as he looked for God's presence in the violent wind.
So, where is the wind blowing you these days? Where are the gentle breezes guiding and shifting you?
What "ruach" is a sacred signal that perhaps some things need to change in your life, and some things need to stay? And how can you breathe new life into some of the lonely, rigid and heart-weary people you encounter?