Hillsides are shaped by the etched lines showing the wind blowing around them and through the trees. Below the surface, red-brown roots anchor the trees into the solid ground. In the season of Pentecost, the longest of the Christian year, we recount God’s spirit coming to people dramatically in wind and fire. This is the helper Jesus promised, the presence we are called still to embody as we become Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. The Hebrew word Ruach, which means wind, breath and spirit, is a form of onomatopoeia. Artist Julie Elliot says this mixed-media work on paper “celebrates God as the one who is close as our breath—intimate, essential and everywhere. I imagine this holy wind moving throughout the world.”
In a nutshell, this is Pentecost, or at least, the most intriguing detail of the famous Acts story. But too often this significant detail gets lost in the celebration of rushing wind, fiery tongues and the so-called birth of the church.
I once went on a blind date. He was a law student, a friend of a friend, and I was a seminarian. We met for drinks.
He was nice, funny. He was a self-identifying Christian--the first one, actually, I had ever gone out with. We were talking about our chosen professions; he was, as many are, fascinated by the idea of a call to ministry. My call story is not exactly dramatic, but it has a social justice edge, forged on youth group mission trips and in researching poverty. “I want to make the world a better place,” I told the date.
The future lawyer looked at me and asked, “But isn’t the world a fallen place?”
With every cycle of our respiratory systems, we are sustained by the same intimate inspiration God exhaled into Adam’s muddy lungs. That breath permeates every cell of our being, nose to toes, invigorating our bodies and minds and souls until it is ready to be released, silently, from the same nostrils through which it came.
This is as ordinary as oxygen and carbon dioxide, and as extraordinary as spirit and miracle.
By the time I was admitted to the maternity ward and lashed to a bed with an IV line, my labor had progressed. With each contraction I felt as though the pain would suffocate me. When the nurse suggested she should call the anesthesiologist, I reluctantly agreed.