The long quiet time during weeks of isolation here in Magdala has allowed me to more attentively admire the incredible beauty of the Galilean countryside. The late spring flowers, seeds and trees, with deer, sheep and birds, the sunshine, winds and clouds, all proclaim the Gospel by their very existence. It is no wonder that they became the center of so much of Jesus’ teaching during his public ministry.
When I first arrived in Magdala, it was early September and still very hot. Strong winds blew over the site every afternoon caused by the rising heat over the water colliding with cool air from the hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee. As an avid kayaker, I kept my eyes on the water’s currents and winds to help gauge the timing and safety for our Magdala Inspiration “Silence on the Water” kayak prayer-tours.
Over months, it’s become clear that the winds are unpredictable on this Jordan Rift Valley lake, something experienced almost daily. The Wadi Haman across the street from Magdala acts as a funnel, often blasting Magdala with westerly winds coming from the Galilean hill country. Sudden eastern gusts coming from the Golan Heights frequently rise up without warning and oppose these, stirring up chaos in the water on the Duc In Altum shore. I’ve seen winds come from the south or south-west, pummeling the northern part of the lake then suddenly change course, driving the top of the water in the opposite direction, leaving an entire area of the sea suddenly calm where moments before it had been white-capped and angry. I’ve become familiar with the hot, dry windstorms called hamsin (the Arabic word for ‘fifty’), two of which briefly passed over Magdala since my arrival, one in early spring and one last fall. These occur over various areas of the Middle East for about fifty days, bringing sand-filled air from the desserts and hampering visibility for a week.
The Galilean fisherman-turned-apostle John surely understood all these windstorms well when he wrote that, “the wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes…” (John 3: 8) The same words of Jesus to Nicodemus perfectly describe the currents and winds of the Sea that swirl about like water in a bowl. Those words are actually an instruction on how to enter the Kingdom of God. “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit…you must be born from above…the wind blows where it wills … you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5,7,9)
The Bride in the Song of Songs speaks of wind as a life-giving spirit. She represents the people of Israel, the Church, and each one of us. The Song reminds us that Our Lord finds any of us more dazzling and alive than Galilee in springtime! He desires to sweep into every corner of your heart and soul – your garden – to know you, love you and see you flourish.
Awake, north wind,
Come, wind of the south!
Breathe over my garden,
To spread its sweet smell around.
After celebrating the Resurrection, we are now living our own hamsin of sorts as we prepare for Pentecost, when 50 days after Easter, the wind of the Holy Spirit rushes into our hearts and souls. The breath of God blows where it wills; at times it can stir up seeming chaos within, and even change course without warning, just like the wind on the Sea of Galilee; it is a warm breeze on the hillside, awakening the colors, buzzes and chirps of life all around; the Spirit is also the soft and encouraging breath of the beloved that gives strength and contentment to the heart. In all these ways, the wind of the Spirit enables us to ‘be born from above’, to be known and delighted in by God, and to ‘enter the Kingdom’ of goodness, beauty, life and love.