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It takes a breeze to make a banner speak! ... Terra came alive and people ran into the streets To feel the water and the wind. None were ashamed to see themselves soaked in blinding, driving rain. It was the changing of the age. -Calvin Miller
The wind brings all things. It is the mother of rain and the father of weather. It is the dance of new air that washes the blasting drought. It is invisible and powerful, beyond the senses and real. The wind is the soul of nature. Few things in this world can serve as a symbol of the Spirit, for most things are either too visible, too touchable or too stationary. The wind, therefore, is the Bible's most moving metaphor for the Spirit of God.
HOW REAL IS IT?
Who can doubt the vitality of wind? Who can measure it in any concrete way? We cannot see it. Yet it flies at us, whispering its substance in the breeze, shouting its soul in the gales. It challenges us to define its existence as it sweeps over us in its subtle and elusive forms, making life possible.
Just how real is it?
Recently a friend of mine flew me from Tampa to Birmingham in his private plane. "The wind," he said, "is blowing directly toward us as we fly and it is coming at a force of thirty knots. Whatever speed the air speed indicator tells us we are going, we must subtract thirty knots." I found this a marvel that we had to reckon with something so totally invisible yet something that could not be discounted. It was there to say, "Here I am, a mystery beyond you with which you must reckon as you compute your travel time. You will not arrive as early as you might if you did not have to reckon with me. I am a real but invisible force."
I remember an odd day in 1975 in Omaha, Nebraska, where I served as pastor. I had turned on the television just in time to hear the announcer warn me of a tornado coming my way. I remember thinking, How odd that the weatherman could pinpoint my very street and neighborhood. I knew he was talking about me. I walked to the kitchen window just in time to see the roof lift off the house behind ours. I have never been able to shake the odd sensation. It felt so surreal! I stood in the wake of a casual wind, when the breeze twisted into violence and I watched the shingled roof of the house behind me lift and hang for a moment in thin air before it floated upward and shuddered into nothingness.
Wind is only air in motion, yet it symbolizes the invisible reality and power of God. How well does the symbol serve?
Here and there I have visited a worship service where the ordinary Sunday words suddenly wrapped themselves in heavy expectancy. The air that had seemed immobile and dead began to stir. With a force unexplainable, it then flew at us and we became more than we were. The mystery hung all about us. Heavy, crushing things were lifted. Our reluctance to love God dissolved. We became more than we ever thought we could be. Our passion for God became a violent headwind, a whirlwind, a God-sent tornado of force. The Spirit came with an invisible force both glorious and transforming.
What is to be said of this glorious Spirit, this Wind incomparable? Let us journey into the heart of the Spirit's mighty metaphor of transformation and power.
OF PNEUMA, PNEO, RUACH, SPIRIT
The words commonly used for Spirit in the Bible also convey the ideas of wind or breath. This is true in both the Old Testament (Hebrew, ruach) and the New Testament (Greek, pneuma). The Latin verb spiro, out of which we derive the word Spirit, also carries the idea of breathing. From this same Latin word we derive terms like inspire (to breath into) or respire (to breathe).
Small wonder that when Jesus gives the Spirit to the apostles in the Book of John, he breathes on these gallant souls and says to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22, NIV). I use the word "breathe" as a kind of prayer. I must have this breath of Christ to live. Any day that God's Spirit does not breathe in my life is a wasted day. I love it most when I enjoy constant renewal, so I pray unceasingly the words of a hymn from my childhood:
Holy Spirit, breathe on me, Until my heart is clean. Let sunshine fill my inmost part, With not a cloud between.
Of all the "breathe" words that most intrigue me, the Hebrew word for breath fascinates me most. Ruach can mean wind, breath or Spirit.
The Hebrews had a covenant name for God: Yahweh, or as they generally spelled it, YHWH (since they did not write out the vowels of their alphabet). This word YHWH, their earliest and most important word for God, is a breathy kind of word with a touch of onomatopoeia about it. Onomatopoeia is a type of word that sounds like that which it defines. Bees buzz, for instance; the word buzz describes what bees do by sounding like what they do.
Some suggest that YHWH, this very breathy word for God, comes to us as a form of onomatopoeia. In the nomadic phase of their civilization, the Hebrews lived mostly outside. They heard God in the elements. He ordered them forward in thunder, in the blistering heat of Sinai or the desert storms. And always there was the wind, moaning at midnight around their fragile tents, coming in siroccos from the desert or in whirlwinds of destruction. They felt both its desert threat and cooling bliss, and yet it remained invisible to them. It seems natural that the wind, during their nomadic years, might become their word for God.
While ruach, unlike YHWH, is not onomatopoeiac, it does refer to the force of YHWH so often symbolized by the wind. It may be only the power of suggestion, but when I see God, as Ruach, moving in powerful ways in the Asian countries where I travel, I have only to close my eyes and let the ears of my heart serve. When I do this, I am convinced I hear the roar of wind, the Ruach, sent as the renovating gales of YHWH.
I first experienced this phenomenon in a crowded Beijing house church. While I prayed in a sweltering room packed with Chinese believers, the press of the crowd seemed chaotic. We had no air conditioning and the doors and windows had to be shut up for fear that our hymns and prayers would be heard and reported to the police. Just when I thought I would pass out because of the heat, I felt a strange sense of wind, a ventilation of the heart, the Ruach, the Pneuma, the breath of God. And wonderful things soon unfolded.
Israel knew this same Ruach. She believed in the one YHWH, an omnipotent, all-pervasive, breathing Ruach God. He was not like the masculine he-gods of the pagan nations. The Hebrew God was too real, too invisible, too all-pervasive to take any tangible, sculpted form. Their God was a Spirit who came like the wind with all of his attributes and blessings-his elusive reality, his sudden gentility, his towering threats.
In the New Testament, Jesus says to Nicodemus, "The wind (pneo) bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (pneuma, John 3:8, KJV).
The similarities between wind and breath are not so unthinkable as it might at first seem. In ancient times, most people lived life outdoors. Those who spend much time in the open inevitably build a huge awareness of God (outdoors has never been the friend of atheism). God was open space, geographical vastness. He was all skyscape, oceanscape, landscape. The wind became the voice of God-God himself. Job's God came to him in the whirlwind and spoke to him from a tornado. A tempest-driven leviathan devoured Jonah. The fierce winds of the Mediterranean sent Paul into his near-fatal ordeal of shipwreck.
WIND, THE SYMBOL OF DELIVERANCE
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east ruach all night (Ex. 14:21, NASB).
I have always considered the Exodus in the Old Testament to be roughly the equivalent of the Cross in the New Testament. In this wonderful picture of redemption, Moses calls on God and God shows up in the form of a redeeming wind. With apocalyptic force, the wind holds back the watery walls of the Red Sea, the people pass through the sea and are saved. So the Bible gives the wind credit for this wonderful miracle of salvation.
Some might ask, how could a wind strong enough to hold back the waters of the Red Sea not also hold back the Israelites from passing through it? This worthy question presents us with a paradox, like many other miracles of Scripture. It's difficult to understand. But for our purposes, the important issue here is that the Bible credits the wind for the miracle.
I have often felt this breath of God, and to know it even for a single second is to crave it forever. Each time I have felt the wind, I long to know the renovation and change it brings to the heart of Christ's church. I have seen the same Wind of Pentecost that first came as a symbol of the Spirit. Wind symbolizes revolution and new beginnings. We often speak of "the winds of change." The best of my sermons ring with a passion derived from the blowing of this Wind. It is a creation passion that creates the church as surely as it created the universe in Genesis 1.
As I wrote earlier, I spent much of my young years attending the sermons of Oklahoma evangelists. The Wind of their godly passion enthralled us. We wept when they led us in weeping; we laughed when they led us in laughter. These masters of the human nervous system caused us to feel what they felt. And while I do not exalt emotion as the god of worship, feeling is not all bad. Emotion in some ways indicates that the Wind of God is blowing.
In planting a church, I grew addicted to feeling the winds of conversion. When the Wind blew, people in the throes of divorce came full circle to marital health. Belligerent and rebellious and dysfunctional children found themselves transformed. These radical changes brought great joy. Certainly, emotion can be overdone. Emotion for emotion's sake soon goes flat. But when it comes as evidence that God is reclaiming and reshaping his world, how welcome it should be!
I have come to see healthy emotion as a sign of life in the church. It often gives the most obvious evidence that God is really involved. Far too often in these latter days I come and go in church without feeling a thing. I remain captive to the mass analgesia, the mass anesthesia, and the mass amnesia. The analgesia reminds me that many sermons feel nearly painful. The anesthesia speaks of their power to drug the vitality of faith. The amnesia suggests that they are eminently forgettable.
Still, when the church came alive in Acts 2, emotion ran high. Observers accused the believers of drunkenness because they seemed joyous to a fault. And how welcome the emotion was! It symbolized the church had been made new and was about to bring even more renovation to its needy world.
It probably is not a sign of health that no one any longer accuses the church of being drunk. We have traded the heady exhilaration of the Spirit for sluggish sermons and yawning hymns.
WIND, THE HOVERING SYMBOL OF CREATION
And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2, KJV).
This verse describes the creation as a watery chaos confronted by the Wind of God. The verse could just as adequately read, The Wind of God began to move upon the face of the waters. The Wind here broods like a hen over an unhatched cosmos, waiting to see what this unformed universe will hatch. It is the brooding Wind that sits and moves and hatches and gives life. The Wind becomes the hovering symbol of creation.
In a loftier and more personal sense, the Spirit now hovers over prodigal and useless lives to transform them into servants and ministers. The Holy Spirit is ever creating and recreating us in the likeness of Christ, as the Wind of the Spirit begins to blow.
Philippians 2:5 exhorts us to have the mind of Christ. Now minds and brains are not the same things (all of us know people who have the one and don't seem to have the other), but if we take Paul seriously here, we must think of the brain as the vehicle and the mind as the driver.
Brains operate at various speeds. When the brain oscillates at 5-8 cycles per second, the Theta state, the person who owns that brain is driving very slow indeed. In fact, 5-8 cycles per second probably indicates that the owner of that brain is comatose and very near to death. When the brain speeds up to 9-14 cycles per second, the Alpha state, the person is enjoying some healthy sleep. When the brain speeds up to 15-40 cycles per second, the Beta state, the person has reached a state of creative rest. The Beta state is true Sabbath. We are in his presence and at peace. Here we are so "with God" that our conversation with him is entire. We are in rapt oneness with God. Artists create best with the mind at rest, allowing them to access their most creative talents. In this Beta state sculptors sculpt, painters paint, and poets exude odes and sonnets.
But the Beta state has an even greater attribute. In this state of mind we are most apt to enter into reverent contemplation of the Spirit of God. In other words, here is where the Wind blows, and the Spirit comes to help us create even as we worship. Here is true inspiration (and remember, the word inspiration is the Latin equivalent of the Greek word, pneuma), in which the ability to create is breathed into us. Here God creates beauty through us, by the same principle of "inbreathing" he has always used to make his world and his saints more like himself.
WIND, A SYMBOL OF LIFE COMING
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Gen. 2:7, KJV).
If the wind symbolizes the coming of creation, in salvation it certainly symbolizes the coming to life. In this passage the word ruach once again is used as the breath or wind of life. God calls humankind into existence by the blessed coming of the wind. The breath of God creates life. How consistent is this image of wind with that of the Spirit!
African lore teaches that all lion cubs are born dead. They would remain that way, except that the Great Lion King of the Jungle comes and breathes into the dead cubs' nostrils the breath of life and so the cubs begin to live. This picture faintly echoes the ruach of Genesis 2:7. The newly created Adam is lifeless, and only the breath of God can call him to life. And so the breath of God does exactly that.
Excerpted from Loving God Up Close by Calvin Miller Copyright © 2004 by Calvin Miller . Excerpted by permission.
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