(Originally published on The Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, Nov. 12, 2014)
The autumn gusts produced by an advancing cold front are literally turning the trees outside of my home into woodwinds. Flute and oboe tones rustle and entwine among the limbs of oaks who have dropped their leaves seemingly all at once, with what seemed like a resolute thud, like an overburdened shopper dropping bags of purchases. The more tenacious leaves of my neighbor’s sugar maple applaud and shimmer in tones of amber and gold, the river birch claps and rubs her diamond-shaped hands as if in preparation for the advancing chill, vibrating like a reed of a bassoon. Living in Missouri, there are often times when I miss the wind I remember from growing up in Tulsa. But not this morning.
Although I spent most of my life as a child in what was known in Oklahoma as “Green Country,” almost all of our relatives lived in western Oklahoma, in places like Enid, Woodward, Crescent, Hobart, and Altus out on the prairie. Thus, this time of the year, when people all across America begin turning their thoughts to hearths and homes from which they have long since flown free, this wind makes me think of the times in my childhood when we would often be planning to travel west. Out there, the landscape undulating gently like the waves on the sea, the wind was a tangible presence, sending clouds scudding along like great ships, blowing tumbleweeds until they stacked along the fenceline or skidded across the highway in front of us, and setting dust devils to whirl like dervishes in Istanbul.
As kids, we would both anticipate the feasts that awaited us as well as dread the long car trips. After all, you can only torture your siblings for so long before parental wrath was loosed upon you like a thunderclap. Eventually we would lapse into a benumbed, sometimes sullen silence, which usually consisted of staring out the window at rolling, stubble-covered landscapes of harvested wheat fields under either startling blue or gunmetal grey skies. My father’s lead foot would propel us across the state in fits and starts as he would gun it past farm equipment and semis and the occasional station wagons of other grim parents clutching steering wheels ahead of kids who made pig-faces pressed against the rear windows. Thanks to my father’s unrelenting tobacco and coffee habits and my mother’s love of Vienna sausages, I would be often unable to read there in the back seat of some cast-off Lincoln or Oldsmobile my dad inevitably purchased every three or four years from one of our more well-off relatives. Roy Clark or Marty Robbins, or perhaps, if my little sister and mother won, Barry Manilow playing from the front seat, we’d slouch our unbuckled bodies in the back, three kids confined for hours in a space that had to be a violation of the Geneva Convention, and watch America roll by.
But always, the wind was our companion. In the Saint Helena Psalter, Psalm 135: 6-7 tells us how the wind reveals the power of God, a demonstration we could be witness to at any time as we approached the 100th meridian:
You do whatever pleases you, in heaven and on earth,
in the sea and all the deeps.
You bring up rainclouds from the ends of the earth;
You send out lightnings with the rain;
You bring the winds out of your storehouse.
In western Oklahoma, we knew that that storehouse had to be absolutely enormous.
In Hebrew the word often translated into English as “wind” is ruach. Ruach is one of those words that sounds like what it is, an onomatopoeia, like rustle or throb or ring. But besides that, ruach is also the word that is translated as “breath,” as well as “spirit” or “liveliness” in the Scriptures. I remember being told that at a Bible study as a child, and it has always amazed me. Leaning up against the chilly window with the Southern Plains whirling past on those November weekends, I would feel that wind buffet even a Lincoln Continental ever-so-slightly, and think of how it was the Breath of God, the same wind that was the Spirit moving over the waters at the dawn of time mentioned in Genesis 1: 1-2, the Breath of God that we sing about in our Hymn 508, that fills us with life anew and inspires us to love and act in response to the call of God in our lives. The wind that was propelling us toward our relatives’ homes, so ubiquitous, so common, was also sacred, a sign that pointed us toward the reality of a living creation, from which we were blessed with everything, and upon which we depended.
As the Gospel of John reminds us, the wind blows where it will, and so does the Spirit of God inspire us. As a child of Oklahoma, the sound and feel of the wind propels my mind back to thoughts of home, and of the mercy of God in giving us all good things. Let it caress your face—and breathe deep a gift from God. Press your hand against the resistance of that wind—and settle deeper into the abundance of God. The wind picks up our prayers, our traveling mercies, and carries them into the ear of the Holy One. In this month of Thanksgiving, let the wind carry us back, not only into the embrace of our relatives and friends, but deeper, into the embrace of the abundant love of God.