Moving With the Wind

My loving wife, knowing my desire to do something adventurous, bought me a tandem paragliding ride.  I was recently able to get that ride on the North side of the Point of the Mountain in the Salt Lake valley.  The forty-minute flight, has offered me many reflections on flying with the wind, but also about our partnership with the Holy Spirit.

Paragliding is essentially riding on the wind much like surfing is riding on the water.  The pilot first lays the glider out in a special area where the wind blows at just the right speed, going just the right direction.  In addition to the wind, the sun's rays cause thermal updrafts, which can also carry the glider to higher altitudes.  My flight started on a bench about 300 feet higher than the city below.  Behind me stood a steep, 1,000 foot mountain.  Waiting, we felt the wind on our face; waiting, the right gust blew life into the glider.  With the right wind and thermal activity, we managed to climb high enough to glide right next to the larger hill and catch the ridge wind to carry us nearly 2,000 feet above the city.

As I was given the controls, I realized that I was not flying.  I was riding.  I was not actually in control.  Neither was my tandem pilot.  A paraglider is nothing like a powered airplane that goes nearly wherever the pilot, lift, and thrust dictate.  No.  We were moving with the wind, only able to make adjustments to the glider in order to deflect the wind.  We were dependent on it to move us in the direction we desired to go.  But here's the thing: We desired to go where the wind would take us.  We wanted to be in the place where we had the option to go up or down and side to side, because as soon as we moved away from the wind, we would only be able to descend and land, ending the flight.

Our relationship with Holy Spirit is very much the same.  Each believer is gifted by the Holy Spirit.  These gifts (whatever they may be) are like the glider.  They allow us to ride on the wind, but only in the direction the wind is going.  If we desire to trust the wind and ride with it, we will fly to great heights.  However, should we wish to go our own way, we will quickly learn how absolutely dependent upon the wind we are.  There is no flight without the wind.

After we landed, another glider was coming in fast from the wrong direction.  You see, landing requires that you go into the wind so you have enough lift at slower speeds.  This pilot had the wind at his back.  He was falling quickly and racing forward faster than he could run when his feet (and then his body) made contact with the earth.  In that moment, as I watched a disastrous landing, I realized even more about the wind.  First, it must be respected because the wind is in control.  This poor pilot, it seemed, decided he was in control and learned a very hard lesson, a very hard way.  In fact, it is highly likely that he didn't intend to land with the wind at his back, but was actually facing the consequences of earlier actions and wrong decisions.

Second, I realized how wonderful it was for me that I had a guide who has flown in the wind for many years.  I was able to have a good and safe flight thanks to his dedication to understanding and respecting the wind.  And because of the safety and guidance he provided, I was able to learn about the wind through his example.  He taught me lots about the wind while we flew; which brings me to the third thing: understanding the wind and flying well clearly takes time, study, and practice.

And finally, we can't see the wind, so it is difficult to know exactly what it is doing.  We had to watch other gliders to see how the wind was moving them.  At times, we could follow them and ride the same wind; other times we would avoid going where they were to keep from suffering from their unfortunate circumstances.  My pilot explained that the wind does some things over the ridge that do not allow gliders to ride it.  It's called "rotor" and the result of flying in it would be, as explained by my pilot, that "our wing would be under our feet, then over our head, then under our feet, then over our head."  And, as I was told, if we moved away from the bench's edge, we would "sink out" and loose our ability to gain altitude.  If the wind were to push us into certain areas, we could loose control all together. (Did you know at times it can actually be difficult to get out of the wind's control and come back down?)

In a discussion with a man named Nicodemus, Jesus said, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8, ESV).  Also worth noting is that in this passage, the Greek word pneuma is used for "wind" and the "Spirit."  

*Photos take by John Anderson is the property of Shannon Lucas and registered under a Creative Commons license.