I remember when it happened to me. I was at a Zen retreat and we were taking a break from sitting in meditation. I took a walk around a pond and at one point I stepped onto a small outcropping of rocks and gazed over the pond as a soft wind blew across my face. At that moment it dawned on me: God isn’t a thing among things or even as a being in the sky, God is like the wind, refreshing my spirit as I stand on this rock. I didn’t know where the wind came from and I didn’t know where it was going. I knew it was free. I thought of Jesus comparing the Spirit of God to a wind that blows wherever it wishes. In that moment God became, for me, Wind.
I think I'm not alone. When it comes to thinking about God in the course of a life, a very important shift can occur over time for many people. They begin to think of God as more like Wind and Breath than as a localized Person. Like wind and breath God is moving, flowing, everywhere at once: in people, in trees, in stars, in other animals, in pain and suffering, and in joy. God becomes Spirit, or the biblical Ruah, or Chi, as described by Grace Ji-Sun Kim in book: Reimagining Spirit: Wind, Breath, and Vibration.
If this shift occurs in you, this does not mean that you cease thinking about God as Person. It does not mean that you cease praying and sense, in the praying itself, that Someone is listening. But it may mean that you begin to think of the Listener, too, as wind and breath. In the language of process theology, God is an everlasting act of experience, an everlasting concrescence, an ongoing act of Deep Listening rather than as a fixed object or focal point in the imagination. And you recognize that your own soul, and that of others, too, is also windlike, albeit in a more finite way. You leave substance thinking behind and are drawn toward wind-thinking, toward process thinking.
On this page I offer selections from Grace Kim and Roland Faber and John O'Donohue that, at least for me, wind-like in their spirit. All point toward a moving, non-localizable understanding of God as distinct from an image of God as localized person. I say “localized" because I know that many in the open and relational (process) community will insist that God is indeed a person but not a localized person. They will say that God is everywhere at once and does not have a body. I agree. My proposal is that the shift to wind-thinking involves a sense of God in process and of God's spirit as in process, too. We experience the divine Wind, not only outside us as a refreshing, calling and sometimes challenging presence, but also within us as a beckoning presence, closer to us than our own breathing. The Divine Wind is never "fixed" because always moving. Its very nature is movement, as is our own. Not frenetic movement, not violent movement, not anxious movement, but movement.
Sometimes the movement is peaceful and refreshing, as it was for me at that retreat. But sometimes, as Grace Ji-Sun makes clear, the movement of God is challenging, especially if we are people of privilege and power. We are beckoned by the Wind to relinquish our privilege and power, and to live with the poor and powerless. And to accept our places as creatures among creatures on a small and fragile planet, knowing that the Spirit is in all forms of life, not human life alone. For the sake of the powerless and for the sake of an Earth that cries with sighs to deep for words, we are called to shake things up, including ourselves, for the sake of a greater good. To make good trouble. Even here, though, our response to the call is inwardly free, because animated by the very Wind that calls us. The Wind outside is a Breathing within us: deep to deep. I hope these passages help you do some moving of your own, as the Spirit so leads.
- Jay McDaniel, Oct. 17, 2021
The Spirit is Breath and Wind
Grace Ji-Sun Kim excerpts from Reimagining Spirit: Wind, Breath, and Vibration
We often put God in a neatly decorated box, with our own biases, ideas, concepts, and understandings that we impose upon the infinite God. We make God simple. We render our understanding of God as if God were an object, able to be molded and manipulated. Even worse, we imagine that we have other boxes to encase God, where God has no place. We feel that we know all that we need to know, that we have reached a point where all problems have been solved. But we need to widen our understanding. We need to challenge our preconceptions, even as it requires us to get out of our stagnated and comfortable states and explore the discomfort surrounding an ever-reforming image of the Creator that is, was, and ever will be. Understanding that God’s Spirit is everywhere and that other people from different religions, cultures, and traditions can experience it should be assurance to us that the Spirit is a comforting Spirit and not a terrifying one. God’s Spirit is upon us all. We must put a positive and inclusive approach to studying the Scriptures and trying to understand the Spirit into practice. We are all created in the image of God, whether we are Christian or Buddhist, refugee or indigenous, woman or man.
As the wind blows freely, we must recognize that while we are inclined to control all elements in our environment, we can never attain authority over the wind. We cannot direct it one way or another; it cannot be moved, as it has a mind of its own. In the same way, the Spirit as wind moves as it wishes, unable to be tamed and fully understood. Perhaps this characteristic of the Spirit is the most consequential reason it is seen as it is today, as the human desire to control and know has not been granted, making us face our own fallibility and mortality.
Spirit is wind and breath. Wind and breath are part of life, and without them there is no life. Wind allows seeds to fall and plants to grow. Pollen is blown in the wind to give birth to new flowers that bud and create new life. The wind refreshes us on a hot summer day, cooling the moisture that perspires, giving us a gust of momentary ease and eventual hope. These two vital elements, wind and breath, are what keep us alive and keep us thriving. They are essential. If we understand the essential aspect of the Spirit and its presence as wind and breath in the same way, we will come to recognize the reality of changes that the Spirit brings into our lives. We will become privy to the Spirit’s life-giving power and the daily renewal that it generates with each new breath and each fresh breeze. The Spirit exhibits to us that there is han or suffering in this world.
The world is filled with the Spirit. Everywhere you look, the presence of the Spirit is felt. As we travel around the world, we recognize and witness the work of the Spirit in our churches, our communities, and our families. The Spirit both lives in the world and works in our lives. The presence of the Spirit is undeniable. The Spirit is light, wind, and vibration; it is all around us and in us.
The Spirit is God, and no one community can hold or possess it. It is free and able to move as it wishes in the world. The gift of life and the struggle for the equality of life are sustained by the Spirit’s power, and this cannot be simply contained within the Christian church or tradition. The Spirit proceeds from the whole world and manifests itself in nature...Whenever we welcome and embrace the Spirit within our lives, we draw nearer to God. God is in all things...
Kim, Grace Ji-Sun. Reimagining Spirit: Wind, Breath, and Vibration . Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Spirit Moves like the Wind
and is not owned by any religion
Roland Faber excerpts from The Cosmic Spirit
The Spirit hovers like an eagle, effortless and still in the wind of our Self, or moves like the wind over the waters of our inner being, churning up vivid patterns of foam and contours where surface and depth meet like the waves of the ocean and the air into which they pierce their forms. This is the cosmic Spirit in the image of the initiation of creation as it appears in the book of Genesis (1:2): the mysterious ruah Elohim, the divine Spirit that is just there, placeless, before the act of creation, before light and Preamble: We Are All Poets of the Spirit 11 darkness part, and land and water retreat to their own realms. Is it (like) a wind, a bird, a power, a presence? Maybe pure potential or creativity? Is it personal or more? Is it singular or plural, a relation or a web, maybe?
The cosmic Spirit of life is, well, cosmic, universal. It is not owned by any religion. Its reality appears in all religions—for instance, as the dynamic and creative presence of God in the Hebrew Scriptures; as the Spirit of pure life in the New Testament; as the Great Spirit of indigenous American tribes; as brahman, the essence of Reality in Hinduism. All of these religions mean the vivid Spirit inherent in all existence and in us. It is in this recognition that the cosmic Spirit stretches us to be released beyond any splintering differences and limiting boundaries. In the excess of the cosmic Spirit, we should measure “its” gift of life only by the intensity by which we give ourselves to others.
- Roland Faber, The Cosmic Spirit: Awakenings at the Heart of All Religions, the Earth, and the Multiverse (Cascade Books)
You Cannot Tell Where it Comes From
excerpts from Divine Beauty
MOVEMENT IS A SIGN OF LIFE. IT IS INTRIGUING THAT THE presence which has the most grace and swiftness cannot be seen, namely, the wind. In the Hebrew tradition the word for wind, ruach, was also the word used for ‘God’. The wind has power and huge presence. It symbolizes pure freedom. In the New Testament in a conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus likens the way of the Holy Spirit to the rhythm and energy of the wind; it is presence as spontaneity:
The wind blows wherever it pleases; you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit. JOHN 3 : 8–9
To dwell in new spirit is to enter a complete spontaneity of direction; this is a voyage of trust imbued with passion – any destination is possible. In phrases like this we glimpse the wild heart of Jesus. At times the wind has a haunting, poignant music. When it rises in the night and shores against the walls of the house, it sounds out a great loneliness. Perhaps the wind achieves poignancy because it has no name. It is nothing and from nowhere. Yet its cry is almost a voice and sounds as if the sorrow of stone and clay, of the dead or those seeking birth, has somehow become a force of emptiness. Their longing has transformed their nothingness into a cry. This atmosphere of wind has unreached realms of longing. It is a keening that no mind could ease. At other times the wind is utterly buoyant, rousing and refreshing. When you walk into that mood of wind, it cleanses your mind and invigorates your body. It feels as if the wind would love you to dance – let you surf its undulations and steal you away from the weight of your body, casting you hither and thither like the shimmer of dust. Such wind is wild with dream. One of the loveliest images of earthly movement is how a bird plays among the high geographies of wind-force, soaring, sliding and balancing on its invisible hills and waves. Before ever the human mind became fascinated with the rhythm, structure and meaning of movement, the birds knew how to enjoy and play within the temporary landscapes of the wind.
- John O'Donohue, Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (Bantam Books, 2003)
God as Deep Breathing, Breathingwith God
Let's get practical. Think of God as the Deep Breathing of the universe. Then practice breathing meditation, say Zen style, in order to be centered as best you can in the Breathing. You seek to be breathed by the Breathing. Of course combine the practice "being breathed" with acts of lovingkindess, service to the world, and a prophetic critique of market-driven society. Help build compassionate cities and an ecological civilization. Start a community garden, volunteer at a local community center, battle the establishment.
But find some way to stay centered in the Breathing as you do, lest you despair or get burned out. Do something like Zen meditation every morning for 20 minutes or every night before you go to bed. The regularity is important. Don't worry if you skip a day or two each week, but try your best to keep it up at least five days a week. Over time you will find yourself more relaxed, more patient, a better listener, more centered, and more discerning. It is fine to do it alone, but see if you can get a group of people -- two or three is enough -- who meet once a week to sit together for longer periods. Try sitting for two 20 minutes sessions. Have a leader ring a bell to get you started and be the timer. Bow each time a session is over. You will be glad you did it.
The Bible speaks of God as the Breath of Life. From an open and relational (process) perspective, this is literally true. God is an energetic and energizing Breathing that which animates and lures all life: people, yes, and also salamanders and scorpions, parrots and penguins, This Breathing emerges from a cosmic Breather who can be addressed in prayer and who calls each and all toward whatever fullness of life is available for them. God is not simply an It but also a Thou; the animation and calling are her Breathing. Her Breathing is not supernatural but rather ultranatural: as natural as gravity and electromagnetism. It is the Deep Breathing of the universe, To be sure, this Deep Breathing is not the whole of life. Life has powers of its own, too, as expressed in acts of self-creativity on the part of creatures. For example, when we humans make decisions in our daily lives, for good and for ill, we are creating ourselves in that way. Not all things are controlled by the Deep Breathing. The Deep Breathing all-loving, yes, but not all-powerful.
Still, we can be breathed by her Breathing and thus nourished. The Zen Christian, Ruben Habito, calls it Healing Breathing and suggests that, with help from this Breath, we can be healed of certain ills that plague our time: alienation from the now, the shadow, the feminine, the wonder in nature, and our neighbors. This good news is that, with help from our bodies and their breathing, we can open our lives to this Breathing, for our sakes and for God's sake. This openness can begin by being with our bodies: in awakening to what Whitehead calls the withness of the body. Zen meditation is one way of openness ourselves to God amid the body's withness. I describe it below and also further description of what it means to be "with" our bodies.