ACROSS THE LOW HORIZON of a mid-Atlantic salt marsh, storms can be seen coming a long way off, usually from the southwest. The light changes, subtly at first. Dark reflections play off the water’s surface, hiding the depths. Azure skies turn dark blue, sometimes abruptly if a storm is coming in fast. Underneath shifting clouds, cordgrass islands and tidal channels flicker bright and dark. The winds come subtly at first, then suddenly intensify. The leading edge of storm clouds can roll in like surf, highlighted against a trailing squall line or thunderhead, a tightly wound cord of energy unwinding and releasing as it crashes overhead.
The strongest storms where I grew up were not the thunderstorms emerging from the prevailing west to east weather systems. Remnants of tropical storms and hurricanes occasionally drove up from the south and battered the beach, the dunes, and then the marsh behind them. A high school friend and I drove down to the beach at twilight to watch tropical storm Doria come ashore. His beat-up but massive old Ford Galaxy swayed in the roaring crosswinds on the beach road like a drunk elephant. The sky was already dark and violent. Inside the car, the roar of the wind was muffled some, but that we could still hear it, and it was the only thing we could hear, was ominous. We parked the car and had to lean against the wind to walk a short way to a small planked deck just on the ocean side of the dunes. We were slightly protected by an announcement board, little more than a sheet of plywood with a partial roof, open at the bottom. Rain blasted in horizontally, stinging our legs like thousands of shot pellets. From shoreline to the horizon, the whole surface of the sea was wildly involved; a raging, wind-driven chaotic mass of crashing surf, rising and falling waves, highlighted by thousands of whitecaps and streaming sea foam. The storm winds tore sentiment and shallowness aside. The world was alive and dangerous.
“THE WIND BLOWS WHEREVER IT PLEASES,” Jesus told Nicodemus in the night, “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (Gospel of John 3:8). From 93 million miles away the Sun warms the spinning world; air rises, cools, then falls again, and the atmosphere circulates. Air moves from high pressure cells to low pressure cells and then back again. The winds begin to blow and the turning Earth deflects the growing winds; clockwise in the northern hemisphere, counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere. A three day forecast will tell you where. A five to seven day forecast gives a good ballpark figure. Much after that and chaos theory ensures we really don’t know where the wind will come from or where it is going. Or whether it will be a gentle breeze or a shattering storm. “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit,” Jesus finished his analogy.
THE WIND, LIKE THE SPIRIT, OFFERS AN INVITATION to journey. The Spirit, like the wind, is sovereign. He will go where he chooses and he will move us where he chooses. He can be gentle or dangerous. But never predictable. A windblown life is what we all really want, isn’t it?