Several years ago, a friend of mine, a bishop in the Episcopal Church, gave a sermon on the Feast of Pentecost, making note of a sermon she had heard from a Southern preacher. In the south, she noted, Pentecost often comes right at the beginning of hurricane season. To the faithful along the Gulf Coast and up and down the Atlantic, wind has a very different significance than it might to those of us who grew up in the Midwest.
Wind, in such a climate, is not a positive source of life, but one that often causes death, destruction and pain. The slightest breeze in June or July can bring shivers for anyone that has ever been evacuated or lost a home.
The wind of the Spirit, the role the Spirit plays in our lives and the questions we are asked in the process of discernment aren’t always positive. It’s often the big questions in life that cause us to stop and consider how the Spirit is working. Those questions aren’t always questions or situations we want to face.
The Spirit calls on us to consider the best way to respond to whatever the wind is pushing us towards. We are called to discern how to handle the care of an ailing spouse or parent or child, perhaps even to pray about the journey at the end of life and the decisions that come with it.
Indeed, it seems that the Spirit works in us even when we might not even believe that God is with us anymore. The wind of that Spirit pushes us to reach out for help when we are struggling, after a relationship ends or a job is lost. That wind blows even when we put up as many defenses as we can, no matter how far we dig our heels into the sand.
Even when we think we’ve said no, the Spirit demands that we continue to discern and engage.
However, the Spirit doesn’t always act as a mighty and destructive wind. At times, that same Spirit acts as a breath, offering us new life and energy, often at times when we need it most. Here we are reminded of the presence of God, even in the most simple and mundane ways. In the way we breathe, or how someone makes our day with a smile or a note or a surprise.
The Spirit doesn’t just show up as a mighty wind, asking us to discern the biggest decisions in our life, like choosing religious life or marriage or single life, how to best pick up the pieces when someone dies, or even what to do when we win the Powerball jackpot.
The Spirit and our call to discernment from that Spirit shows up in varied ways—as both a mighty wind and as a life-giving breath—throughout our lives, even when we aren’t paying attention.
And, as we are reminded in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the call to discernment is not only an individual spiritual endeavor. Indeed, for us as Christians it must happen in the midst of a community, where we are not individuals at all, but the same spirit.
There are many parallels between the church in Corinth and our church today. The need for, and pleas toward, unity that Paul expresses to the deeply divided community he seeks to minister to can easily be adapted to our own lives, our parishes, and the church throughout the world.
We are called to consider, as the church in Corinth considered, how to welcome those who are different than us into our midst, even and especially when they are sitting right in the pew next to us.
We are called by the Spirit to discern how to move beyond charity and towards justice, to find ways to bring about compassion in a world that is so deprived of it. We are blown around by the wind of a Spirit that asks us to talk to one another. That Spirit tussles us until we can finally let go of all that divides rather than unites, that harms more than cares for our neighbors.
Just as we will likely not survive a hurricane standing alone in the middle of a coastal boardwalk as the eye of the storm makes landfall, we cannot thrive without each other.
How do we honor the diversity of gifts that we all bring to this specific time and place? No matter the gifts given to each of us – they all stem from the same community, the same Spirit, and the same God who makes it all happen.