Sailing teaches a lot about wind. Imagine going out through the cut at Port Everglades on a sailboat—let’s call it the good sailing vessel Promise. Next to the cruise-line behemoths, you feel like you are floating along in the shell of a little robin’s egg, a toothpick for a mast. Most sailboats have motors strong enough to keep you moving but they’re no match for the big, bubba, macho man power boats that roar by, leaving you bobbing this way and that in water. The sea does its bit to remind you that you are only one six billionth of the human story, one microscopic speck in the history of creation.
So you get out past the cut, where the water is so beautifully blue it hurts your eyes, and you look for a patch a little bit away from where the action is.
When Spouseman and I sailed, my apprehension would grow as we got to that place. I wanted to keep that weak and known diesel engine going. I kept trying to postpone the inevitable—I’m too nervous, it’s too choppy here, why are you pushing me so hard, give me some space. But I could not postpone the inevitable for long. If you are going to sail, you have to raise the sail. And you cannot raise the sail unless you are steering directly into the wind. Spouseman's job was to raise the mainsail. With my heart in my mouth, I’d power down the engine to almost nothing and grab onto the wheel for dear life, trying to stay on course.
The sailors with us today can describe much better than I what that moment is like. The wind, even if it is only a breeze, roars and pops in your ears. The sail going up adds another layer of sound—snapping and crackling, while the sheet banging against the mast contributes its own clanging. The noise engulfs you and if you are a fraidy cat like me, you are sure that at any moment you are going to be swamped and die because even if the wind is only blowing at 8 or 10 knots, those are monster swells racing directly towards the vessel. That moment is the essence, the absolute manifestation of chaos.
Here is what has never stopped amazing me. A split second later, as soon as the sail is up and the sheet secured, when all you do is turn the wheel to a slightly different point of sail, there is this faint whooshing sound as the sail fills, it’s flapping stilled. The crackling in your ears stops. You turn off the motor, which really was obnoxiously loud and smelly, and all that chaotic, seemingly pointless sound and fury finds its voice and rhythm, as the boat begins to move and gains speed, powered through the water with the invisible grace of the wind.
The beginning of the story of Pentecost as told by Luke in the book of Acts captures something of the chaos of wind: “When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”
Fifty days had passed since the crucifixion and resurrection. Even with the Risen Christ among them, the small, improbable, ragtag bunch of people who had followed Jesus struggled with grief, fear, confusion and isolation. They could see bits and pieces of this new creation represented by the Risen Christ, but what did it all mean?
After a life changing moment in our lives, it is not unusual to go through a time of great confusion, denial, numbness—all those feelings that go with being lost. As the days go by, the layers of defense we use to absorb such a moment are stripped away. And then, usually in the most unexpected way, triggered by something beyond us, the enormity of what has happened breaks through, we face directly into the depth and width of what has happened, what has changed. We can no longer avoid living in a new real. We are pointing directly into the wind. We are more stripped of artifice and defense than we normally allow ourselves to be in the face of our creator. It is chaos where risk and opportunity are inextricably bound to each other. It is a sound like the rush of a violent wind, it is a fire that consumes, it is a moment that feels like death and the beginning of life all rolled into one. It is chaos. No wonder we want to turn on that puny diesel motor again and play it safe. No wonder we stand there gripping the wheel for dear life, with our hearts in our mouth.
I believe that the passage from Acts describes that moment when those scared and disoriented friends of our Lord were finally able or were finally forced to point directly into the wind. Hiding out and waiting to see what would come next was no longer a viable alternative. I love that Luke sees the humor of it—even in this most transcendental of moments, Peter is reassuring folks that the faithful aren’t drunk. At our most vulnerable and lost—or found—we’re still worried about keeping up appearances aren’t we?
In this passage, we already see the outlines of what happens when the puny power of our own fears and expectations, our own aspirations and limitations looks upon the face of God. The possibility of overcoming estrangement and misunderstanding is breath-taking. The discovery of gifts and abilities we did not know we had exhilarates and energizes. The promise of a completely new life begins to be fulfilled.
In comparison to the Book of Acts, the Gospel passage appointed for today has more of the feel of what happens in that tiny fraction of time when you turn the wheel a few degrees, the sail fills with wind and you start moving forward. "Peace be with you… Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Turning off that motor, accepting the strength of the wind, following a path we cannot see, leaving a wake that quickly disappears, we are in harmony with the winds of God, which means we can also find our rhythm with all creation.
Turning into the wind, Jesus friends learned something new about the love of God through Christ. They also discovered their vocation and gave birth to the Church, which for all its foibles and failures, is still the place where so many of us have learned about the absolute, eternal, all-possible love of the One who created, redeemed and sustains each and every speck of creation.
What about us? When was the last time we allowed ourselves or were forced, both as individuals and as All Saints, a small branch of the True Vine, to point into the wind? Today we haven’t just had a history lesson. We too have been called. Learn to trust something beyond that puny little diesel motor of yours. Point into the wind. Receive the Holy Spirit. Live. Love. Amen.