The weather on the isle of Iona has been bright and balmy. One especially beautiful day, a patch of clouds looking like an angel’s wing, hovered above, beckoning us on our way.
Yesterday morning, however, more traditional Scottish weather blew in from the sea. The day turned soggy, blustery, and cold, not ideal for the run I was planning. Still, my muscles yearned for a workout like agitated children wailing for their promised playtime in the park.
So I set out running into a stinging, rain-soaked headwind and immediately regretted my decision. But as usual, when running, my body quickly warmed to the task. Soon, I was relatively comfortable lumbering along, even as I wondered what windshield wipers for eyeglasses might net on eBay. A few hearty Scots were out walking their dogs or otherwise defying the weather, but most everyone was still indoors, sipping hot tea.
My destination was the other end of the island, which on Iona (only one mile wide and four miles long) is never very far. I passed the little village by the pier, the wet grasslands by the sea, the ever-present flocks of sheep. Much of my run was on paths across pastures so periodically I stopped to open a farmer’s gate and then secure it behind me.
Finally, I topped a windswept hill and saw a lonely ocean, grinning with delight, at an unexpected visitor. Having reached the shore at the far end of the island, I stopped long enough to bask in the tranquil beauty of the misty scene. Then the chill started creeping back up my bones and I set off again, heading back the way I came.
This time, however, the wind was at my back, nudging me on. The swirling embrace of the wind invigorated my body and awakened my soul. My lungs drank deeply of the fresh gusts of air. Soon a plodding determination to complete a difficult run turned into the light steps of a rhythmic dance. Chugging up hills that seemed daunting moments before was suddenly easy. The foggy, rain-soaked world surrounding me became more sharply focused, more lustrous and alive, more God-filled and less clouded by my own projections.
The image of the Holy Spirit as the wind came to me unbidden. In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and in the Greek of the New, the word for “spirit” can be mean both “breath” and “wind.” In fact, the Bible begins with that very image: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind (Hebrew, “spirit”) from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).
Yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit comes quietly and gently, like a dove, bringing God’s calm at the center of our storm. But sometimes the Holy Spirit comes like the famed wild goose of Celtic spirituality, wild and unpredictable, knocking things over and stirring things up. Think “Pentecost” when the Holy Spirit disrupted a nice, respectable prayer meeting with the force of a “mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2:2), bowling over tired, spent expectations and breathing life into the church’s new beginning. As Jesus said it, “The wind (“spirit”) blows where it chooses, 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” (John 3:8).
So as I ran down the isle of Iona with the wind at my back, I felt the Holy Spirit near: more wild goose than dove, more a mighty rushing wind (a la Acts 2) than the Spirit (“wind”) quietly brooding over the waters in Genesis 1.
In a divine coincidence those who don’t know any better call “luck,” I crested one last hill. There before me was Iona’s abbey, built to commemorate the life and mission of Saint Columba who brought the Good News of Jesus to Scotland. That abbey and its call to a renewed life and mission was what drew me to Iona. Still panting, I couldn’t help but smile.
Tradition says Columba died on the very hill where I was now standing, taking in this final, awe inspiring scene. And that’s when I realized why Columba went to that hilltop to die. It’s because a hilltop is where the Wind is strongest. And one last time, that grand old saint intended to ride the Wind, on angel’s wings, all the way Home.
Bob Setzer, Jr.
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