Sunday, February 20, 2011

Can I Sleep in Here?

From Psalm 91:

You who dwell in the shelter 
of the Most High,
and pass the night 
in the shadow of Shaddai,
say: "YHWH, my refuge 
and my mountain fortress,
my God in whom I trust!"

For YHWH says: "I will rescue you from the snare, 
and shield you from poisoned arrows.
I will cover you with my pinions; under my wings you will take refuge;
my faithfulness will shield you.
You have no need to fear the prowlers of the night 
or the arrow that flies by day,
the plague that lurks in the shadows 
or the scourge that stalks at noon."

(Special thanks to Sonnie, 
who gifted me with The Inclusive Bible, 
from which this translation was taken.)

Sermon, Sunday, February 20, 2011
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: John 3:1-10 and Mark 4:35-40

I hate the wind. I love the concept of the wind. But I hate the actuality of the wind. The concept of the wind is lovely: an invisible movement of air that sweeps through. One never knows where it comes from or where it’s going—there’s something romantic about the wind. We see in the movies the wind blowing through a woman’s hair, a triumphant moment of one kind or another and Marilyn Monroe's skirt flipping up on a poster. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Titanic leaning out over the ocean at the end of the ship yelling out “I’m on top of the world!” The wind, the wind, blowing through with its breath of fresh air, cleansing hearts and minds. The wind, in its playfulness, causing autumn leaves to dance. The warm Santa Ana winds of California, sweeping hot air from the desert down the mountains and out to the sea, or the gentle onshore breeze of an early summer afternoon, bringing the smell of salt and the sound of the sea gulls. The concept of the wind is lovely.

The reality is that the wind distracts me. It bothers me. The sound of the wind howling through trees and snapping branches for the last two days has sent me to my bed to curl under the covers and wait for it to stop. The wind these last few days has been a constant companion, rattling my windows, snapping power lines, pushing my car in directions I hadn’t planned. One year the wind was so strong that I had to hold on to my youngest son to keep him from blowing away.

In California that gentle onshore breeze can quickly become a difficult gusting wind that sinks boats and sailboarders. The Santa Anas, with their dry heat, pick up the slightest spark in the mountains and cause the chaparral to explode into flame, burning acres and acres of wild brush and often homes, sometimes people. I have come to understand better the cruel capriciousness of hurricanes, now that I live on the east coast. These days I am closer to the southeast, and I know more people and their families who live in Florida, Texas, the Caribbean. Tiny islands, long flat inland swamps and beaches, places where hurricanes and their winds and rain push deep into people’s homes and livelihood, destroying what is in their path.

The wind, when she blows, causes my head to shrink inwards, the pressure of the sound, the air makes me ache. And when I step out into the wind, and it snatches my hair and whips it around like it does everything else, I want to return to my home and not leave until the air is still once more. And that gentle onshore breeze? I leave the beach with my hair sticky with salt blown up from the water, tangled beyond repair. Oh the wind.

Nicodemus came to Jesus with some questions. He came at night—perhaps he was a night person, I like to think Jesus was too, although there’s some evidence of early morning fish fries and other suspicious events that lead me to believe he was a bit too cheery in the mornings for my taste. Or perhaps Nicodemus came at night because he did not want to be seen chatting with this peculiar rabbi. Or perhaps it was only late, after a glass of wine or two, that Nicodemus was able to gather the courage to ask his impertinent questions. Whatever his reason, he showed up on Jesus’ doorstep and began to play the question game with Jesus. How can someone be born from above? What does that mean? Teacher, I do not undersand. What do you mean born a second time? Does a person crawl back in their mother’s womb and get reborn again?

Seeing that Nicodemus was not understanding, or perhaps becoming exasperated with his questions, or perhaps suddenly hitting upon the perfect metaphor for life lived in faith, Jesus finally says to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound if it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is of everyone who is born of the Spirit.” When I first heard this scripture many years ago, preached by my pastor in those days, Steve Jacobsen, I was rather taken with it. This particular verse seemed to describe perfectly my own faith journey and the sense of being blown about a bit by the wind or the Spirit. Steve explained that the same word that meant Spirit also meant “breath” or “wind”, and all the connections for me between Spirit and life and the capacity to breathe in this world came together in my mind. I have lived on this verse as an explanation for how my faith functions for a long time. And like I said, the concept of the wind is quite lovely, a breath of fresh air, the winds of change, a gentle breeze restoring one’s soul.

But there are seasons in our lives when the wind is not so kind and gentle. Seasons where the winds are destructive and violent, forcing change and brokenness that we did not seek or desire. And I have been reflecting on that kind of wind lately, as I put back together the pieces of my life that have been shattered and scattered by winds I could not withstand. There are days when I wonder where is the strong hand to hold onto that will make sure I do not blow away?

Friday night as the winds howled full strength outside our apartment windows, the cats paced and fought with one another. The warmth of the day (66 degrees!) turned quickly cold, and I had to shut the windows I had opened for the first time in three months. My pleasant dinner on the balcony turned chilly too fast. An hour after I put the children to bed and then put myself to bed, a little voice came out of the dark. “Mom? Can I sleep in here?” The wind was loud indeed, and although I am old enough to know that I would probably see the light of day, no matter how hard the wind blew that night, my little guy wasn’t so sure. And so I held on to him til morning so he wouldn’t float away on that wind.

The wind 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 of everyone who is born of the Spirit. The longer I walk in faith, the less stable everything is. I would like to be able to tell you that the more of the Spirit you let into your life, the more settled you will be. Many people will tell you that the more grounded they are in Christ the more peaceful their lives become. In the midst of the silence of their souls, the still, small voice of God comes to them with assurance and insight. But that has not been my own experience—the more of the Spirit I let into my life, the windier it gets, the less settled everything becomes. And we know this was true also for the disciples. Step into a boat with Jesus, and you are likely to run into a storm. And not only that, it’s likely to be a big storm. And not only that, but Jesus is likely to be sleeping peacefully while you are fretting about the wind. Fretting and worrying, the winds of the Spirit whipping through your hair, threatening to overturn the boat, until in fear and despair you awaken Jesus himself crying, “Do you not care that I might die from this???”

I wonder if this isn’t the reason Nicodemus came that night to Jesus. I wonder if he hadn’t heard a bit of Jesus’ teachings, if he didn’t already know something about being reborn in the Spirit. I wonder if it wasn’t just a little too overwhelming and his visit to Jesus wasn’t about seeking reassurance in the middle of the storm battering his spirit. Is this any different than “Mom, can I sleep in here?” Jesus, I don’t understand. Jesus, the boat might sink. Jesus, do you not care that I might die in the middle of all this wind, this change, this life-altering, life-shattering experience of the Spirit? Do you not care that I will never be the same again? Do you not care that I am frightened? Do you not care that I liked things the way they were just fine? What kind of a God are you, anyway, who would so fearfully and utterly alter the core of our being? And then Jesus rebuked the wind, and to the sea he said, “Be still!” And then he looked at the disciples, wind worn and storm weary, and he said, “Have you no faith even now? Why are you afraid?” 

And indeed why are we afraid? In our own time, each one of us will pass on from this earth. Along the way we will be carried off and shattered by winds we cannot control. Yet still, the hand of God reaches gently to each of us, promising shelter even in the middle of the fiercest storm. And should we not live to see the light of day, we will surely discover the light of God. With such knowledge, what is impossible? With that knowledge, what change should we fear? Let us then lean into the wind.


  1. Well, Katie, you've done it again. You've left me weeping and heartful and amazed at your ability to say just what I wanted to hear from you.

  2. Ah, Abbie. So glad we are connected. Perhaps we will find a way to meet in person one of these days soon :-)

  3. Love where you went with this! Didn't see it coming...what a blessing!

  4. testing comments section