“A Spirit That Blows Where It Chooses ”
So far as we know, none of us had a vote on where we were dropped into the world. None of us had a say on where we were born. We didn’t have a say on the body we would be born into. We did not have a say as to our gender or sexual identity or the clarity or confusion of these things. We did not have a say on our genes. We did not have a say as to whether we’d have a proclivity toward science or literature. We did not have a say as to whether we would be an INTJ, an ENFP, or an ESPN.
We understand very little about how we got here.
And we understand very little about where we are going. I don’t mean to be morbid on a beautiful day, but we know that we will all eventually die. At least, the odds have been running 100 percent so far. But we don’t know when or where or how. We don’t know what happens after we die. We may have some beliefs and convictions but no one knows.
I’ve always been amused that one of the most famous evangelists in the world, who preached about heaven all the time, his last words were, “Finally, the great mystery.”
We may have beliefs and hopes, but none of us knows.
Nicodemus, a theologian, came to Jesus looking for answers to the meaning of life. Jesus told him to pay attention to the wind.
The people of the Bible lived in the desert and on the sea. They knew the wind. They may not have understood the wind scientifically but they knew the wind intimately like you know a sibling or a spouse whom you may not understand very well either but you still know intimately.
If they were traveling through the desert, a strong wind could turn their world into confusion and make it impossible to know what direction they were traveling in. An absence of wind could leave them at the mercy of the heat of the sun.
If they were sailing, a violent wind could sink their boat, but an absence of wind could leave them adrift at sea. In a sail boat you can not travel faster than the wind.
They knew the wind intimately, they loved and they feared the wind, they didn’t understand the wind at all, but they knew it like you and I know a brother or a sister or a lover.
In both of the languages the Bible is written in, Hebrew for the Old Testament, Greek for the new, there is one word that can be translated either “wind” or “spirit.” Ruah in the Hebrew; pneuma in the Greek. In the world of the Bible, the wind and the spirit were so closely identified with each other that they were the same word. And wind and spirit is also breathe. And breath is life.
And they are all things that we can know intimately but can’t really fully understand.
I was listening to an interview the other day with a scientist who studies the wind. He studies hurricanes and tornados, sort of like the scientists in the movie Twister. It is amazing how much about the wind we still don’t understand. There are too many variables. The winds are a phenomenally complicated, interwoven, unpredictable system that we assume is rational but its rationality is more a matter of faith than knowledge.
Jesus tells the theologian Nicodemus that this is what all of life is like. Our lives are phenomenally complicated, interwoven, and unpredictable. There are too many variables. We assume that there is rationality to life but this is more a matter of faith than knowledge. We can not understand our own lives. We can not understand our own lives, but we can know life intimately. We cannot understand fully but we can live fully. We can ride the wind.
So the question for us all the time is whether we are willing to embrace what we can not understand? Are we willing to trust what we can not control?
Yesterday I conducted a wedding. I prayed with a nine-year old in her hospital bed.
This morning we have baptisms and confirmations.
Tomorrow I will lead the prayers for an inurnment in our columbarium.
All of life in one weekend. How little of it we can understand. Birth is a mystery. The little creature that comes into the world is a mystery. Maybe the gnomon project will explain it all someday but I doubt it really. There are just too, too many variables.
All I can say is that every baby born is a gift. Nothing in life is more fascinating than watching children grow up; and then, watching youth become adults. It is excruciating but nothing is more fascinating.
Then we fall in love or we don’t. We find work to do. So much of life feels like luck – good luck, bad luck.
We come to Jesus asking for an explanation of life. Help us make sense of life, we ask Jesus. Help us figure out how to control life.
Jesus says, Trust the Spirit. Ride the wind.