Who Has Seen the Wind?

John Waterhouse, "Wind Flowers"

John William Waterhouse, “Windflowers”

Spiritual Sunday

In today’s lectionary reading (John 3:1-17), Jesus uses wind as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. It’s a good passage to keep in mind when reading the well-known “Who Has Seen the Wind?” by the pious Christina Rossetti.

The story in John has a slightly comical opening. We learn that Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, comes to question Jesus in the night, presumably because, while he senses that Jesus can answer his burning question about how to touch the divine, he doesn’t want to be seen taking lessons from this unorthodox preacher. After all, isn’t he himself supposed to already know? Or as Jesus puts it, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”

When Jesus tells him that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” Nicodemus gets very literal:

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus replies that Nicodemus must start thinking in spiritual rather than material terms:

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 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.”

Wind, of course, has a material explanation involving differences in atmospheric pressure, temperature, and other factors. Rossetti, however, is thinking more along the lines of Jesus. When the wind is passing through, it is she herself who hangs trembling, she herself who bows down her head:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

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