It was two days before Christmas. I was mired up –making sure the donkey would walk for the Christmas Eve service and everything else that bunches up and crushes right then…
But the article was too good to miss. Or to fail to save.
It was written in part, I suspect, because last winter’s winds, more than usual, had already made themselves felt, already crueler and more unyielding… and we couldn’t yet see all that the rest of the winter was to bring!
The article appeared in the NYTimes, the Environment section of the paper, on Monday, Dec. 23. It was entitled: “And the Wind Cries Oe.”
(I had to get Margaret Rohdy’s help yesterday, figuring out how to pronounce
that consonant-poor name O. E. — the distinctive whirlwind known in the Faroe Islands. She counseled, “For you, go with an umlauted German O. And say it with confidence, and you’ll be fine …unless we have any guests in church from the Faroe Islands.”)
The article’s author, Mark Vanhoecker — whose last name curiously has that same difficult to pronounce “OE” vowel pair —
…Vanhoecker’s an airline pilot and a writer who in learning how to fly also learned the names of the winds …and was charmed by them.
Ultimately, the article, after an overview of named winds around the world, the article or its author wonders: “Are North Americans, particularly in the Northeast, less likely than other folks to identify particular personalities in their tempests?”
It’s a good question. …It’s hard to not be charmed by the poetry of this worldwide aeolian aristocracy: they not only raise scrabble scores; they also open up our imaginations and blow away our horizons:
the Sahara’s Harmattan,
France’s Mistral, or
Hawaii’s Ho’ o-lua-waha-kole and Mala-mala-mama-i-kai.
(Hopefully, there are no visitors in church this morning from the Hawaiian Islands either!)
You see, certain breezes warrant personal names, because they’re known, offer the personality and punch of a recognizable cocktail of strength, and season, direction, temperature, duration or precipitation.
A name, then, is a forecast. But winds also carry the force of history and myth as much as weather.
Hippocrates, the author of the Dr.‘s oath, also believed physicians needed to know which breezes cause flabbiness and which induce humid heads.
(If anyone has a lead on what wind I should steer clear of or expose myself to in order to lose weight, I’m all ears.)
A 19th-century description of London’s northeasterly winter blasts sounds like a 21st-century pharmaceutical ad — complete with the list of terrifying side effects… that leaves you wondering if the cure isn’t more dangerous than the illness: things like:
“a sense of impending suffocation”
“restless sleep wetted by uncontrollable salivating.”
No wonder Britons travel all the way to South Africa on vacation in South Africa, where “the Cape Doctor” is famed and named for its healthful influences.
Mental health, too, has often been thought to be wind-borne. Legend has it that “the Khamsin” of the Arabian peninsula, known for elevating both “temperatures and tempers,” was a mitigating factor judges would take into account when sentencing criminals.
And Raymond Chandler wrote: When California’s Santa Anas blow, “meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.”
Humans have had a kaleidoscopic compass of wind gods, and Scirroco, Bora and Passat aren’t just Volkwagen’s recent, up-market models.
I’m not sure how many of you have seen it, but yesterday, setting the stage for Pentecost, I posted on the church’s FB page, a live map displaying the delicate tracery of wind currents flowing over the US mainland.
After all, when Nicodemus asked Jesus how anyone, especially someone old, could be born anew, Jesus answered:
“The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
That same live map of the wind currents blowing across us offered its own explanation. It reads:
“An invisible, ancient source of energy surrounds us — energy that powered humans’ first explorations of the world, and that may be a key to the future.”
Which gets me to the point of my Pentecost sermon. You didn’t come to church after all to hear about the zephyrs and euclydons (for any biblical scholars in the congregation today,the euclydon was the wind that shipwrecked Paul on the way from Greece to Italy, AND the same name Melville used for the wind that whipped around New Bedford, Mass. in Moby Dick.)
But, as I said, you didn’t come to church today, for a lesson in literature or meteorology, Greek mythology or even air travel.
But maybe you came… in hopes of some experience of a godly current, an updraft, or a breath of fresh air, if you will?
The rushing of a Divine whoosh that unsettles or cools or rocks you.
The whisper of the a barely noticeable breeze, something completely beyond us, A gentle rustling in which we hear a still small voice.
Some wind beneath your wings or some music in the air… over your head…
It’s not just poetry and music, you know, when we call this invisible but undeniable movement the breath of God.
It occurs to me, as we celebrate and give thanks today for the ministry of our choir, they are one of our experience of the holy mystery and beauty of sacred air in motion.
“Choir” it’s a local name we have for the wind, a blessing we know here at church, a precious movement of God in our midst, a completely this-worldly phenomenon that draws from, reaches to and carries over into the other-worldy.
Isn’t that what Pentecost is all about too? A promise. Some poetry and music. Attempted explanation. Myth and history.
That we can be filled and lifted like sails or tossled and turned around, messed up like hair on a stormy day, blown over or blown away, pushed, driven to a new place, perhaps sent seeking the shelter in a cleft in the rock…
Beloved, with each breath, the most completely ordinary breath, in each and every last one, we’re given and receive an extraordinarily graceful resource, God’s sharing of energy and life.
The author of my Times article wonders in conclusion if named local winds might be ready for an American renaissance?
He reports that in 1997, there was a contest in Portland, OR to come up with a name for the “cold and crazy” and distinctive wind that blows from the Columbia River Gorge. The winner was “Coho,” but memorable suggestions included “Columbia Screamer,” “Brutal Bellows” and “Big Bad Momma.”
Church, you may have not thought of it this way, but we have our named wind.
Pentecost and the Holy Spirit and church are names given to a current or invisible movement, the wind of God, the waves of what we receive and perceive as God’s grace blowing all around us and in our midst.
Every bit as inexplicable and yet, no less ordinary and real than any low pressure system from Canada, or the Nor’easters charging up the Atlantic seaboard — what we don’t quite see, and yet know so well as to take for granted as they blow so much of our weather and world and context right at us.
Breathe on us, please, breath of God, and fill us with life anew. Amen.