Wind as an image of the Spirit is as old as the Bible itself. The book opens with these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was waste and void, darkness covered the abyss, and a mighty wind was blowing over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). . . .
Why do we find this mention of the wind—or “spirit” of God (as the Hebrew word is also translated)— before God spoke his creating words? We have to look at the verb used to describe the spirit’s action. Some translations use the word “blowing,” others “moving”; but I believe that the best translation is “hovering.” The spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The only other place where this verb is used is in Deuteronomy 32:11, where it describes a mother bird beating her wings over her little ones, encouraging them to fly.
Unlike the Babylonian myth of creation, in which the chaos is an enemy to be conquered, this formless mess is to be loved and fostered into being. One of the earliest Jewish commentaries on this text, dating from New Testament times, interpreted it this way: “A spirit of love before the Lord was blowing (hovering) over the face of the waters.” This holy wind is not a part of the chaos, it is God’s motherly love conveying the promise of life, order, and beauty to what was of itself a mess. Because God’s spirit was hovering over it, chaos became promise.
And so we recognize the relevance of this image for our own lives. At times we feel like our lives are a mess. There is no light, and we are floating about like a cork lost at sea. We try to fight it, to no avail. We try to flee, but there is no exit. What do we do? We fall on our knees and ask the Holy Spirit to hover over our mess, to embrace it lovingly and prepare it for the light of God’s word. If any of our chaotic depths surface, we then turn them over to the Lord.
As the powerful but wordless Spirit of God prepared for God’s cosmic word, the Holy Spirit in our wordless prayer lovingly prepares our chaos for the word that will give shape and meaning to what made no sense before. The Spirit will show us how “God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Fr. George Montague, a Marianist priest, is professor of biblical theology at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. This is adapted from his book, Holy Spirit, Make Your Home in Me. Want to learn more about how God's gift of the Spirit is meant to powerfully transform our lives? Click here for more information, read an excerpt, or purchase this book.