It is very pleasant to feel a gentle breeze and hear the rustling of the leaves on the trees. A warm wind from the south is also a joy to most of us. However, the wind is unpredictable. It can be gusting, whirling, whistling. It can become a howling gale, or even a hurricane. The same wind that can fill the sails of a boat can also become a storm blowing it off course.
These common experiences lie behind the use of wind as a metaphor for the Spirit. In the Bible there is the phrase, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3.8) What are we to understand then about ‘spirit-filled’ people?
We might expect people of the spirit to be kind and loving, gentle and considerate. And one hopes they are. They can be like the zephyr that brings warming comfort, or like the wind that lifts the wings of the eagle. However, they also have the power to disturb, bring change, inspire revolution. The people who are driven by a spirit of truth and justice can be stubborn, persistent, discomforting, and even as irresistible as a tornado.
The same word is used for breath, wind and spirit in the early stories of the Bible. It is ‘ruach’. We might prefer the wind/spirit to be like a sweet breath on our cheeks. But where there is corruption or injustice, or violence against people or the planet, the wind/spirit can blow away our complacency and challenge our prejudices. I remember a Bible-study session in the German Kirchentag in Berlin one year, which began with the sound of breathing, and a procession of large leaf filled branches rustling as they moved. But it moved inexorably towards a storm of challenge to violence against women and the planet.
The celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit has just been celebrated in British churches. It is the feast of Pentecost. This comes as a reminder to Christians that sometimes there is a need to offer a gentle caress to those who are bruised and vulnerable. But it also prompts the conscience to search out the reasons behind the pain and suffering and to challenge the people and systems that create them.
People of the spirit can be found in all religious traditions and amongst those who do not identify with any formal faith. Perhaps you recognise someone, young or old, who has shown the spirit to you, either gently or forcefully! Perhaps you feel the spirit within you urging you to love and to care, to act to bring about change and to make peace.
May the spirit be with you!