The other night, I woke up at 2:21 AM to an unfamiliar sound. Surfacing from the depths of sleep, I tried vainly to identify it. Was it one of the boys climbing out of bed? Was it — God forbid — an intruder creeping down the hall? A few moments later, the mystery was solved: it was a branch banging against the bedroom window every time the wind blew.
And when I say blew, I actually mean “howled.” I can’t remember the last time we had wind like that, a Brontë-esque wuthering that made me suddenly apprehensive about the stability of the tall trees just behind the house. It was like the wind was a living, breathing thing bent on keeping me awake. Between the noise and my worry, it took me nearly an hour to fall back asleep.
When the New Testament talks about the Holy Spirit as a mighty wind, part of me finds that an off-putting image. The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its microclimates, and I happen to live in an area that gets a lot of wind. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of our bay breezes. The wind stirs up pollen. It wreaks havoc with your hair. It drives you inside when you want to be out playing soccer with the boys. It can down branches and scatter papers and, even on a summer’s evening, chill you to the bone.
And yet, on the other hand, the connection between wind and the third person of the Trinity makes a certain amount of sense. Much like the wind, we can’t control the Holy Spirit. She (I use the feminine pronoun for the H.S., because it’s most helpful to me) goes where she wants to, at her own pace. We can invoke her, but we can’t control her.
I’ve actually spent most of my Catholic life with a pretty vague understanding of the Holy Spirit. It’s only in the last ten years or so that she has felt real to me. In that time, I’ve experienced her as the force that inspires and energizes, leading me to action. The Holy Spirit brings gifts (according to St. Paul, these gifts include patience, peace, gentleness, kindness: in other words, very useful ones.) The Called and Gifted workshop that I took eleven years ago showed me how the Holy Spirit also brings charisms, uniquely personal gifts from God that we use for the good of others. It’s the nudging of the Holy Spirit that got me writing about spirituality a decade ago. It’s the promptings of the Spirit that caused my husband to leave his career in the tech industry and take a full-time job in ministry. We’re not the first people to discover that the Holy Spirit should really come with a warning label. Caution: If you listen to the Spirit, your life will change. Those changes can be unsettling, yes, but they are also invigorating … much like the wind itself.
As I drove home from work the day after the windstorm, I looked out at the familiar landscape around me. After a week of nearly-constant overcast, the wind had driven the clouds away. The sky was blue, pure, crystalline; every last bit of smog was gone, and I saw details that are normally hidden from view. The wooded hills that I drive past every day were suddenly rich in detail and texture. It was as if I could see individual trees and gradations of color where before everything had looked flat and matte.
As I gazed at the stunning brilliance of those hills, I thought about how the wind makes us see things more clearly. So, too, does the Holy Spirit. It is astonishing how different our lives can look once the wind has done its work.
Boreas by John William Waterhouse