By JIM NICHOLS
Larry was a runner on the track team of a university in Oklahoma City. He was a distance runner with a slight build, and he reported that it was difficult to run at certain times of the year. He said he had been told that the physical location of his university was at the point of highest average wind speed in the country. Larry said that he was literally blown off the track more than once.
I am not sure of his locale facts, but, since I also have been a runner and live where the wind can blow furiously, I do not doubt his main point. If you are running around the oval track, the wind is your friend 50 percent of the time and your enemy otherwise. For shorter, straighter races, running against the wind is a clear disadvantage and results in a slower race time. On the other hand, sprinting with the wind can lead to record times. Track meets include devices that measure the wind speed at the time of a race, and 100-meter dashes with the tailwind over a certain rate are identified as “wind-aided,” even if it is a record.
The Bible uses a wonderful set of comparisons and images to explain God things. Given who the scriptural authors were and how they were influenced, that is not unexpected. This is largely necessary because so much about God and God’s actions come within the human “mystery” category.
Richard Beck (Hunting Magic Eels) elaborates on how we have lost seeing the “enchantment” in the world. You and I are so dependent on scientific experiments, data, surveys, conclusions, and trends, that we have become blind to the unseen world acting also. The wind and the Holy Spirit fit this category.
In the third chapter of John is a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. The latter was confused with Jesus’ talk about a “second birth.” Then, as if things were not already troubling enough for Nicodemus, Jesus apparently speaks of wind and Spirit simultaneously. Nicodemus would have known that the Hebrew words for “wind” and “spirit” are the same, but that did not help his understanding. It might be helpful if we try to retrace Nicodemus’ thinking.
In most ways, we are not clear on much about the Holy Spirit. We do believe that the Spirit is invisible; there is no physical form. That also describes the wind. We do know the wind exists but not because we see it; what we see are the results of the wind. We can sense the movement of leaves and branches and even hear those movements, but the wind itself remains unseen. In storms we can sense the potentially damaging power of the wind, but it continues to be largely unexplainable and mysterious. Where does it come from and where does it go? All those descriptors also address qualities of the Holy Spirit.
We are largely stuck in the decisions and consequences of daily life. Too seldom do we realize that there are invisible forces around us and influencing us. It would help us if we could awaken our attention to the enchantment of the world; this would draw our attention away from all the smallness of our lives and place us more clearly in the mysterious events, words, objects, and forces that make everything around us holy, part of God’s creation. God has positioned signs of himself in the world around us and the acts of the Holy Spirit are included in those signs. We must grow in our alertness to them however, because, like the wind, they are difficult to decipher sometimes.
There is a human concern also with paying too much attention to the Holy Spirit. We will realize that makes possible that the Spirit would evaluate us. We do not like to be judged or criticized. At worst, it reminds us of our impermanence.
Today’s local weather forecast predicts that the temperature tomorrow at this time will be 25 degrees lower than today. A cold front is blowing through. The lower temperature and strong winds will knock many leaves from trees; there will be evidence of the presence of the wind.
Our desire is that our actions as God’s people would, similarly, be rated as “wind-aided.”
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain
I lived in Oklahoma City for 18 months and can attest it must be the windiest city. Chicago has the “windy city” title but that was intended to reflect the city’s politics not the wind off the lake.
Concepts of the spiritual aspects of life can be difficult to understand. We are so much “in the world” that we have trouble seeing life in the spiritual realm.