Riding the Wind
by Fr. Jack McArdle
"The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don't know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (Jn. 3:8-9).
There are times when I envy the seagulls! I remember watching a seagull one day, and it went down to the end of a mile-long pier, turned around, and came back again-without moving a wing! It was 'riding the wind', and making the wind do the work. I have watched seagulls having a ball in the midst of a gale storm — twirling, twisting, gliding, and just going with the flow. What a freedom that is! What a wonderful change it would make in our lives if we could adapt that attitude.
The Spirit is the Breath of God, the wind beneath our wings. "Therefore, I say to you: walk according to the Spirit……Let the Spirit lead you. The fruits of the Spirit are charity, joy, and peace, patience, understanding of others, kindness and fidelity, gentleness and self-control…..If we live by the Spirit let us be led by the Spirit."(Gal. 5:16, 22-25).
There are times, of course, when the seagull uses its wings, and it must do so to get where it wishes to go. I can identify that as I watch it come to land on the seashore. It's what happens during that, or after that, that I envy. The sheer freedom of being able to let go, and let the wind lift it right up into the sky, and send it sailing off into the distance. To be able to slightly adjust the wings, and reverse all that first procedure. That must be exhilarating.
I think of the seagull when I think of how life could be. I do believe that God can, and is willing to play a much bigger part in our lives than the one we allow him. I often reflect on the ways in which we, knowingly or unknowingly, must set limits to what he can do in, through, and for us. From pure native instinct, the seagull has a very powerful relationship with the wind. There is a trust there, and a confidence that the seagull and the wind can work together. Life must be very dull indeed, for the poor seagull when everything is 'becalmed', and there's not a puff of wind! It is totally thrown back on its own resources, and I suspect it is more than likely to be seen floating around on the water, or snugly perched in a crevice on the cliff-face. The seagull is OK, though, because the winds will blow again, and it soon will be off on more manoeuvres.
What bothers me is when I encounter humans who have no other experience beyond battling the winds, and feeling powerless in the eye of the storm. "Then a storm gathered and the wind began to blow. The waves spilled over into the boat so that it was already filled with water. And Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him, and said to him 'Master, don't you care if we sink?' As Jesus awoke, he rebuked the wind, and ordered the sea 'Quiet down! Be still!'. The wind dropped, and there was a great calm. Then Jesus said to them 'Why are you so frightened? Do you still have no faith?'"(Mk. 4:37-40).
Some years ago there was a drought in Israel, and the waters of the sea of Galilee were at an all-time low. I happened to be there at the time, and I remember standing at the sea shore, with nearly fifty or sixty yards of hardened dried-out mud between me and the edge of the water. Some time prior to my arrival, a discovery had been made in that mud. It was a boat, sticking up ever so slightly. Experts worked very gently, and ever so slowly, and they succeeded in extracting the boat from the mud. It is reckoned to date back to the time of Christ. It is extremely frail and fragile, as was obvious when I went to see it. Its present home is resting on the bottom of a small swimming pool, which is filled with some special kind of preservative liquid. It will probably remain there, because, out of that setting it might warp, or disintegrate in some other way. There's no way it could take handling of any kind.
Anyhow, to get to the point I want to make! As I looked at that boat, I thought of the incident in the gospel to which I have just referred, and I was in awe. Thirteen men in a boat that size, half-filled with water, being tossed around like a cork on the water, and Jesus is asking them why they were afraid?!! Not to be terrified in such circumstances would require the highest level of faith I could possibly imagine. And yet Jesus insisted on them learning something from this. I can only dream of what life could be like, if I had faith like that!
I remember watching swans on the canal some years ago. I walked past there twice a day on my way to and from work. I was mesmerised by the fact that the swans glided gracefully along, with just the merest ripple of water in their trail. They were majestic. What I could easily overlook, however, is that they were peddaling away underneath! They were working away without making a splash. Lucky swans! They were quite busy, but exuded an aura of calm that was really impressive. Again, what a beautiful image of how life could be.
I know that some people are worriers by nature, and know no other way of being. They are always waiting on the other shoe to drop, and the light at the end of the tunnel must surely be the lights of an on-coming train! This can easily become a way of life, and, as with the man at the pool, Jesus could ask them "Do you want to be healed?"(Jn. 5:6). Don't straighten me out, I'm enjoying my confusion! While not wishing to underestimate the power of the Spirit, I have met people, and I came away convinced that a personality transplant was what was needed. There was one thing that was certainly needed, and while it is absent, nothing can happen, and that is a sincere desire to be open to all the Lord can do for me. I always find myself going back to a basic requirement, before that could happen, and that is that it is only the Spirit who can create this attitude within my heart. There is no way that I can generate it, or psyche myself into it. It is pure gift, and I can expect to receive it when I'm really ready to do so, and to make use of it. God would never put a desire within my heart without supplying what it takes to fulfil that desire.
Referring back to the seagulls again, the sky's the limit, and I can be as free as I really want to be. To switch the image again, if I hoist the sails, the wind will move the boat out to sea, and on to the horizon, if that's where I want to go. I really don't think that these images are totally unrealistic, even if I fail to experience this freedom most of the time. There is no way that the seagull will let the wind drive it off course, and bring it somewhere it doesn't want to go. Similarly, with the boat and sails, I do have a rudder, and I can control the direction; as it would be irresponsible to just drift out to sea, and let the wind decide my destiny.
When I speak of living and walking in the Spirit as riding the wind, I do not mean that this excuses me from all responsibility, or that I should become some sort of unthinking robotic figure in the hands of a controller. I have to lead my life; I have to make my decisions, and I have to act on those decisions. It is how I approach and handle all of this is what I have in mind here. I am speaking about resigning as a member of the 'white-knuckle' club; of ungritting the teeth, unflexing the muscles, and unclenching the fists. I will get the inspirations, but I must be willing to act on them. The Spirit will give what it takes, but I must provide the body,--the hands, the feet, the voice. In the last chapter I spoke about prayer, and how essential it is that I show up. If there's no body, the Spirit has nothing(or nobody) to work on. Grace builds on nature, it doesn't replace it.
Riding the wind is impossible if I'm weighed down with burdens. Some or many of these burdens are imposed on us, and are not self-imposed. However, the Lord fits the back for the burden, and he assures us that we will never be given a burden that is too much for us. Another way of putting this is to have Jesus say 'I will never lead you where my Spirit will not be with you, to see you through. Nothing will happen to you today that yourself and myself will not be able to deal with'. St. Teresa of Avila used to say 'Teresa on her own can do nothing. Teresa and two ducks can do nothing. Teresa, two ducks, and God can do anything.'
For one person something can be a burden, but for the Christian person of faith that same thing can afford an opportunity for growth, and can be a source of blessing. Being a Christian means looking at things from the perspective of Jesus Christ. "Who has known the mind of God that he may teach him? But we have the mind of Christ."(1 Cor. 2:16). We can only surmise what life must look like if we look at it through the eyes of Jesus. Surely it must be endowed with infinite possibilities. Eternity is what emerges from time, and infinity is what our finiteness merges into. In a certain sense, to walk in faith is to take risks; risks that become less and less so as time goes on.
When the promises of the Lord are found to be reliable and dependable, then the process of trusting comes much easier to us. It is only when I let go of the bar at the deep end of the swimming pool that I'll discover that I am able to swim. I can hold on to the bar till the day I die, and I'll never find out if I could swim or not. For generations, this gamble has paid off, and the simple fact of that letting go brought on many years of recreation and enjoyment that would otherwise have been unknown. There is no knowing all the blessings that will flow from every stepping out I take. There is a Charles Lingberg within all of us, if we were just ready to go for it, and discover what is possible.
Faith grows through practising faith; it grows through exercise. I learn to pray by praying, just as I learned to walk by walking, and to talk by talking. Of course, the Spirit has a major role to play in the growth of our faith, but the Spirit cannot become the wind beneath our wings if we are not prepared to open those wings.
This journey back to the Garden can be an experience of wonder at every turn, if my heart is open to this. 'My God is new with every new day' is a saying attributed to Cardinal Suenens. Alice in Wonderland begins her story with these words: 'I could tell you my story beginning this morning. I couldn't begin yesterday because I was a different person then.' So was I, and so were you. Catechesis, at best, can be little more than academic knowledge. Knowing things up in my head is not faith. Knowing Jesus is God is not faith; even Satan knows that. Accepting knowledge in my head is nothing more than mental assent. It is when faith seeps down into my feet, and allows me step out, that I begin to act in faith.
How often have we seen a parent playing with a child, when the child is thrown into the air, and caught again, amidst delirious excitement. This is trust at its most obvious. We couldn't imagine a parent stepping back and not catching the child, just to teach it never to trust anybody! The seagull is very familiar with the wind, as is the swan with water. The relationship is a secure one, even though both species had to make that first venture all those years ago. I'm sure the confidence had to grow, until now it is totally automatic.
How could I possibly think of my Father being anything but caring, loving, and dependable? Surely, Jesus has done enough to merit our trust, and to receive our confidence? Faith is a response to love. "There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives away all fear, for fear has to do with punishment; he who fears does not know perfect love."(1 Jn. 4:18). To ride the wind is to trust God, and make that leap of faith; something that will change my life utterly and for all time.
E-mail this article to a friend
Look At It This Way copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.