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 with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
—Gospel of St. John 3:8
Dearest monks and artists,
One of my favorite images from St. Hildegard of Bingen, the prolific Benedictine Abbess of the 12th century, is to become like “a feather on the breath of God.” How many of us allow ourselves to be carried on this divine breath, this sacred breeze? Can we allow ourselves to yield fully to this holy direction?
In the Celtic tradition, peregrinatio is a special kind of pilgrimage. Instead of setting out to journey to a specific place, the ancient Celtic monks would undertake a journey to find their “place of resurrection,” which is the place to which God is calling the wanderer to settle and offer their gifts in service. The best known example is St. Brendan the Navigator, a sixth century Celtic monk, who left behind all that was safe and secure, and accompanied by twelve other monks set out to sea. The boats used at the time were called coracles and were small vessels made of animal skins stretched across a wooden frame and sealed with pitch. Brendan and others would set off in a coracle without oars, trusting the wind and current to guide them to arrive where they were being called to go. They would literally cast themselves adrift at sea for the love of God, following only the direction the wind would take them, prepared to accept whatever the outcome may be.
They travelled without rudder or oar, letting the current of divine love direct them. We often cling to those instruments of direction and control, whether our day planner, our to do list, or our five-year plans.
These journeys were acts of complete trust and faith in the One who guides our journey and accompanies us along the way. They also speak of a profound act of surrender to the Spirit and a letting go of our own agendas. This kind of journey eventually became known as “white martyrdom” in contrast to the “red martyrdom” of the early Christian church when believers sacrificed their lives for their beliefs. The white martyrs relinquished their sense of safety and ego to go where God called. In peregrinatio, the journey is initiated by an inner prompting, to leave behind the familiar and go where the Spirit leads. It means becoming a stranger to what is comfortable and secure, and an exile to what is safe. The story of Abraham in the Book of Genesis is the exemplar of leaving home in response to God’s call, not knowing where the journey would lead.
While you may not want to cast yourself out to sea and leave your journey to the direction of the wind, you can pray with this gift of wind by considering the ways in your own life you are being invited to let go of some of your own goals and direction and begin to listen to the inner promptings of the Spirit. Praying with wind is an invitation to surrender to a less self-directed and move toward a more Spirit-directed path through life. Wind beckons us to release our grip of control and enter into a life where we are willing to be led to new places.
In this year of pandemic, we are being invited to trust even more deeply that at the source of all is Love. We are being asked to surrender our own goals and needs to deepen into a new way of being which has at its heart the well-being of all that lives and breathes.
Consider placing a feather on your altar to remind yourself each day to release and be carried on that holy breath.
With great and growing love,
(This reflection is adapted from my book Water, Wind, Earth, & Fire. We will be exploring the four elements during Advent through creative practices of writing, nature journaling, and movement. All the content for the Advent retreat will be brand new and the book is recommended as a companion but not required. More details below.)
PS – I was interviewed this week on the Word Perfect podcast about my life as a writer and poet among other things. Tune in at this link>>