I’m a child of the wind.
There’s a lot of wind here in southeastern Minnesota, much more than I expected and much more, it seems, than I experienced last year in St. Paul. But, as a native of South Dakota, I have to make the claim that you really don’t know wind until you've lived west of the Missouri River in that state.
Growing up, wind was an everyday experience for us. A good wind day mean that there were gentle breezes in the 10-12 mph category. A bad wind day mean that those gentle breezes turned into gale force winds, in the 50-60 mph category, sometimes even higher. Winter wind chill temperatures were brutal. Spring and fall were always gusty, blowing leaves and dust all over the place. And summer winds almost always blew in an afternoon thunderstorm.
Those days that were good wind days--well, they were magnificent. As a little girl, I remember walking in our pastures in the summertime, feeling the gentle breeze, which brought cool relief from days that could be very hot and humid. They also carried the wonderful smell of prairie grasses to my nose--a sweet, rather exotic smell that, if I closed my eyes right now, I could still smell it in my imagination. It was there, in our pasture filled with prairie grasses and tickled with gentle breezes that I felt one with God and all creation. Thinking about those experiences takes me to this day to a place of deep peace.
Yet, that same gentle breeze can turn into something that feels terrifying or risky or unexpected, can’t it? I've experienced that many times throughout my life living through many a tornado watch, eyeing a few that have come dangerously close, praying that they would switch direction. Driving 200 miles in the midst of a winter blizzard, guiding my mother as she drove in near-zero visibility by opening my door ever so slightly to watch the lines painted on the highway. As an adult, I’ve stood close to the edges of cliffs as a hard wind blew off the ocean, taking a risk and leaning into it with the full knowledge that if the wind should stop suddenly I might easily go over the edge. Flying kites over the years with my son, confident in my own abilities until suddenly with little warning, the wind would send my kite crashing to the ground.
Yes, even with its contradictory nature, I’m a child of the wind.
So, imagine my delight when, in my first years of seminary, I learned that the word in scripture used for the Spirit means wind and, even, breath of God. It seemed fitting somehow. That the Holy Spirit--this mysterious third person of the Godhead, this unseen presence sent by God into the world that appears in the most unexpected places, this Comforter that both reminds us of what God has said and continues to teach us about God, this Advocate through whom God has claimed us as God’s own and has formed us into the body of Christ--well, it seems only fitting that this Holy Spirit should be characterized as wind derived from God's breath. That natural, contradictory, unexpected force that, for me, can mean both deep peace and unexpected danger or risk. As John writes in the third chapter of his gospel, “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear her sound, but you don’t know where she comes from or where she is going.”
Perhaps that is what is most unsettling about the Holy Spirit. It seems fairly easy to understand and categorize God the Father as creator and loving parent. It seems easier to understand and categorize God the Son as redeemer and savior of the world. But, it is really hard to easily understand and categorize the Holy Spirit, isn’t it? This Being who works in the water of baptism and the bread and wine of communion to bring us to faith, to forgive our sin, and to bring us into community with one another. This Breath who speaks through the words of Scripture to us in our own language to further reveal who God is. This Person who shows up when we least expect her and most need her through the kind words of a stranger, the supportive words of a Stephen Minister, or the challenging words of a close friend. This Unseen Force who nudges us to act as we seek to “walk our talk” in our daily lives instead of just on Sunday mornings. And who works on the hearts of people, pushing them to give out of their abundance to pledge amounts high above expectations for a building expansion to better serve their community. This Spirit Wind who, in one moment, carries us peacefully like a kite in the blue sky and who, in the very next, pushes us forward, into new and sometimes terrifying places. And who continues to weave newness into the fabric of our lives and the world and all creation. This is the Holy Spirit.
And we are all her children. Children of the Wind. Children of the Holy Spirit.
So, let us pray then. Using the words of Walter Brueggemann, let us pray that the Holy Spirit might continue to come--to work in us and in our world.
We name you wind, power, force, and then,
imaginatively, "Third Person."
We name you and you blow...
Blowing the world out of nothing to abundance,
blowing the church out of despair to new life,
blowing little David from shepherd boy to messiah,
blowing to make things new that never were.
So blow this day, wind,
blow here and there, power,
blow even us, force,
Rush us beyond ourselves,
Rush us beyond our hopes,
Rush us beyond our fears, until we enact your newness in the world.
Come, come spirit. Amen.
Preached May 15, 2016, at Chatfield Lutheran Church. The prayer is by Walter Brueggemann in his collection entitled Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 167.)