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Working with Light Pneuma


Ministry is easy when the Holy Spirit, the pneuma of God, is blowing mightily in the local parish. Just like the fall breezes that kick up fallen leaves, you can feel the power of the Holy Spirit on your skin, in your face, through your hair. It looks like a swirling of activity, it sounds like the laughter of children, it shows on the faces of the faithful. . . and all is quite fine, easy, smooth and energetic. We all love the church when we can “feel” the presence and power of the ruah, the spirit, the wind, the heartbeat of the divine coursing through the life of God’s people.

What about when it becomes difficult to detect the Spirit’s movement? (We all don’t always feel it at the same time either!) There’s a mood shift in the community of faith or in disciples who aren’t sure about the frenzy of activity around them.  “Who’s idea was this anyway? Letting the children run around here like a pack of wild animals?” That cannot be the work of the Holy Spirit, can it? It’s too chaotic to be of God. “What about me? How’d I get lost in this shuffle?” we wonder. “Things simply are not the way they used to be around here,” whether good, bad or indifferent this makes us anxious or sad or confused. The wind has changed and for some reason we fail to recognize it as Spirit.

Anemos in Light Wind

Last week I went sailing with my skipper.  The wind was very light. It is hard to sail in light winds. There is less movement of the pneuma to fill the sails and thus less propulsion across the water. It takes more concentration to keep what little wind there is in the sails so that they don’t start flapping and go slack from a lack of energy. A few times I lost the wind.  I got distracted by the conversation. My captain didn’t though. She’s been at it for most of her life so she didn’t even have to look at the sails to know that I had lost the wind.  She calmly would direct me, “Fall off,” or “move it away from yourself.” She knew I had lost the wind before I knew it and without even changing the tone of her conversational voice she would gently instruct me to pay attention to the wind.

I think it’s like that for us in the church. . . if we are in tune with the Spirit, the pneuma, the ruah that feeds our souls, our lives, our mission, then in time our experience helps us to not even a skip a beat in order to bring the wind back in our sails. It’s hard to live faith in light wind. It’s difficult to harness the Spirit’s energy when it isn’t blowing full force into our faces. It takes courage and patience and most of all, faithful attention, to navigate the Christian life in times of light wind.  To keep the church moving forward in peace and harmony during light pneuma is also a challenge. The sails of communal life flap, sometimes even go completely slack. There are times when we have to “come about,” change directions in order to catch the pneuma. But this is all about following Christ and letting him lead the way. The wind will return in fuller force, it’s simply a matter of time and patience. We can get fussy and upset in the meantime but it seems to me that there is always something beautiful to look at even when we are barely moving along. We may not get that sweet feeling in the pit of our stomach that comes from a thrilling ride, but we do get something.  We get to slow down and focus on the more subtle movements of the Spirit in our lives which is equally wonderful as the wind that messes up our hair.


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