The other night, I woke up at 2:21 AM to an unfamiliar sound. Â Surfacing from the depths of sleep, I tried vainly to identify it. Was it one of the boys climbing out of bed? Â Was it — God forbid — an intruder creeping down the hall? Â 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.” Â I can’t remember the last time we had wind like that, a BrontÃ«-esque wuthering that made me suddenly apprehensive about the stability of the tall trees just behind the house. Â It was like the wind was a living, breathing thing bent on keeping me awake. Â 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. Â The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its microclimates, and I happen to live in an area that gets a lot of wind. Â Honestly,Â I’m not a big fan of our bay breezes. Â The wind stirs up pollen. Â It wreaks havoc with your hair. Â It drives you inside when you want to be out playing soccer with the boys. Â 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, Â the connection between wind and the third person of the Trinity makes a certain amount of sense. Â Much like the wind, we can’t control the Holy Spirit. Â 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. Â 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. Â It’s only in the last ten years or so that she has felt real to me. Â In that time, I’ve experienced her as the force that inspires and energizes, leading me to action. Â The Holy Spirit brings gifts (according to St. Paul, these gifts include patience, peace, gentleness, kindness: in other words, very useful ones.) Â The Called and Gifted workshop that I took eleven years ago showed me Â how the Holy Spirit also brings charisms, uniquely personal gifts from God that we use for the good of others. Â It’s the nudging of the Holy Spirit that got me writing about spirituality a decade ago. Â 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. Â We’re not the first people to discover that the Holy Spirit should really come with a warning label. Caution: Â If you listen to the Spirit, your life will change. Â Â Those changes can be unsettling, yes, Â 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. Â After a week of nearly-constant overcast, the wind had driven the clouds away. Â The sky was blue, pure, crystalline; Â every last Â bit of smog was gone, and I saw details that are normally hidden from view. Â The wooded hills that I drive past every day were suddenly rich in detail and texture. Â 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. Â So, too, does the Holy Spirit. Â It is Â astonishing how different our lives can look once the wind has done its work.
Boreas by John William Waterhouse