Nov 16 2011

A Feather on the Breath of God

Over the past few days I’ve been reading a delightful book called Water, Wind, Earth & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements by Christine Valters Paintner.  As you can tell from the title, the book explores ways that the traditional four elements of nature can be used to enhance our prayer lives.  I have only read thus far the section on “wind” but I am finding this book to be filled with lots of useful information and suggestions.  I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve found helpful.

To begin with, Paintner says “The metaphor of air or wind offers us a variety of ways to understand our experience of God: as life-breath, as inspiration, as enlivener, as directional guide, as powerful force, or as the current that supports flight.”  She also says, “The element of wind invites us to ‘open our souls to Being,’ which means opening ourselves to a God who flows in directions we cannot predict.  This element invites us to a radical posture of surrender in releasing our hold on our plans and making room for God to blow us in the most life-giving direction.  As a metaphor for God wind reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways.  The invitation of wind requires of us a detachment from our own longing to control the direction of our lives and a simultaneous surrender to Spirit to allow ourselves to be carried to places of growth and newness.”

I remember from my studies of Greek and Hebrew that both languages use the same word for both “wind” and “spirit.”  I have not, however, given that much thought to how we might use the wind or air we experience on a daily basis to make us more mindful of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives each day.  We actually have a chance with each breath we take to be reminded of the Spirit that sustains guides and nourishes us.  In meditation people are encouraged to pay close attention to their breathing.  This makes perfect sense.

I found the following suggestion by Paintner to be particularly helpful.  “Begin each day by intentionally setting aside your plans and offering a prayer asking for direction from the flow of the Spirit present in the wind.  Notice during the day where this guidance wants to take you.”  This is a simple practice that could have a profound impact on our lives.  We might envision ourselves as “a feather on the breath of God,” as Hildegard of Bingen once suggested, and then seek throughout the day to allow God’s Spirit, God’s Wind, to move us wherever God thinks best.  Jesus once told a man named Nicodemus, “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)    I encourage you to ponder anew the words of Christ and to offer a prayer that you will be as open to the movement of God in your life as a feather is to the sometimes gentle and sometimes forceful prompting of the wind. 

–Chuck

(The top two pictures are intentional blurs taken to illustrate the movement of the wind.  I chose the bottom image to symbolize how we never know where the wind or God will lead us.)

Editor’s Note: Rob’s father passed away a couple of days ago.  Please remember he and his family in your prayers.