By Justin Rossow
‘Tis the season for package arrivals, so when our Alexa lit up last night, we kind of expected more of the same. “Alexa, what are my notifications?” Caleb asked. It turns out, the National Weather Service had issued a strong wind advisory for our area over the next 24 hours; nice of Alexa to let us know.
“Wow! That wind!” said Kate, as we headed off to school this morning. Alexa (and the National Weather Service) had been right: both the door to the house and the door to the van almost blew out of her hands as she struggled to get her oversized backpack into the vehicle. A few minutes later, as we waited for our carpool, we talked about the day ahead and watched the tall, brown grasses being tossed by wind. Then Kate was off for another day of high school, waiting to hear who was cast for what role in the winter musical and looking forward to performing in the Boar’s Head Festival this weekend.
At home, as I opened our back door, another gust almost ripped it from my hands. The tall shag hickories in our yard danced and juked their branches in the wind with sudden, unpredictable motions and the sound of a distant train. A burst of humid but cold air hit me in the face and chased me inside.
The weather is changing. You can smell it. You can feel it. It’s in the wind.
I was recently reminded of the way many of our metaphors derive from embodied experience. Whoever coined the phrase “the winds of change” must have been leaning on the very physical understanding that comes without conscious reflection when a blustery day promises a significant shift in weather. (If you look it up, you will find some debate on the actual origin of the phrase, but it probably doesn’t matter who said it first. Although more and more people are more likely to experience the weather through their Alexa rather than their own bodies, we still carry a cultural knowledge of wind and change.)
Of course, the wind carries another connotation for me. It’s not a new insight that the biblical languages use one word to mean “wind” or “breath” or “spirit.” The Hebrew ruach and the Greek pneuma are used for the Holy Spirit, but the same vocabulary can be used, for example, when God ruachs the breath of life into Adam, or the mighty pneuma shakes the house where the disciples were gathered for Pentecost.
I have sometimes, though not often, prayed with others outside. The whispering of the wind always reminds me of the Spirit who breathes life into our prayers.
Today, though, the gust of wind that hit me square in the face indicated that change is coming. Oh, man. The wind is right. Caleb is sitting in sixth grade math or science or Language Arts right this very second, and he’s excited about a basketball game tonight; but he won’t be in sixth grade long. Blink twice and he’s off to high school, off to college. Kate is thriving (and also struggling) in the way high school sophomores do, with so much promise of who she is and who she is becoming. Our eldest, Naomi, will be home from college tonight; she’ll be staying in Liz’s room, since Liz, our next eldest, is also in college, but out of state.
Each of them is on the cusp of something new. Each of them knows change is coming, but not what to expect. Each of them is growing, and adapting, and learning, and making decisions large and small that will shape who they are. The winds of change are blowing.
But the wind still reminds me of the Spirit. When I see change coming in the lives of my kids, when I sense the unknown changes waiting for me in the new year, I am so thankful that the wind, which so often seems so out of control, also carries the promise of divine presence.
At the risk of shifting metaphors rather suddenly, I wrote these words just yesterday (for a book I hope will be out early next year):
In Romans 8:29, Paul says that God chose you ahead of time for a purpose: to be shaped to look like Jesus. I like how N. T. Wright translates that verse in The Kingdom New Testament: you have been “marked out in advance to be shaped according to the model of the image of his son.”
The life you are living is the raw resource, a chunk of rough cut marble; the Spirit who works in you—and even prays for you! (Romans 8:26-27)—is the divine Sculptor, gradually coaxing a work of art from that cold, hard stone.
And if you are the marble, and the Spirit is the Sculptor, then Jesus is the artist’s model, the design, the beautiful image of the invisible God that directs every placement of the Sculptor’s chisel, every careful stroke of the hammer.
Your life of faith is not yours to design or control; you aren’t supposed to make something of yourself or do your part. You are given the gift of salvation; you are given the gift of faith that receives that salvation with open hands; and you are given the gift of a response that lives out your new salvation status for the sake of the people around you.
The winds of change are blowing. I can’t control that. But I don’t have to. That wind, which seems so random, so haphazard, so unpredictable, also reminds me of the powerful wind/breath/Spirit of the Living God.
How am I supposed to manage so much change? Maybe I’m not. Maybe the block of marble doesn’t have to strive with the sculptor for control. Maybe my kids will be led by the Spirit even when it feels like they are being blown by a storm. Maybe the uncertainty, confusion, and change in my life is subject to the breath of God, the mighty wind, the Sculptor Spirit who never strikes the chisel apart from divine design.
Alexa was right. Strong weather is ahead. The winds of change are blowing. But the wind always reminds me of the Spirit of God, powerful and untamable like the wind, but as close and as life-giving as every breath I breathe: in and out; in and out.
Come, Holy Spirit, and pray in me the prayer I need this day. Blow wherever and however you choose. But change me to be just a little more like Jesus today. Amen.
Trust the uncharted ways of the Spirit.