WORD of the Week: GALE
I remember first learning the word for the Spirit in both Hebrew and Greek. In Hebrew the word is “ruah” as in the story of creation, Genesis 1:2 “. . . .the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind (ruah) from God swept over the face of the waters.” In Greek the word is “pneuma” as in John 20:22, “When [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit (pneuma).’” Different words but the same Spirit. That which existed from the moment of creation to the moment of Jesus gifting his followers with it is present in the fullness of the Triune God in whom we confess our belief. It is the same Spirit that is God at work breathing into all that is, was, and is yet to be.
It has been two weeks since I was installed as the Lead Pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church, Rochester, Minnesota. This was a memorable day just as 2020 has been a memorable year. The week prior to my installation our Bethel Reengagement Team made the difficult decision to suspend in-person worship services. This meant some quick “pivoting” (of which we are now quite skilled) into some changes to an online worship service that would include some special additions for the event and the first Sunday Drive-In Worship with Holy Communion. Temperatures were brisk but it wasn’t the cold that was memorable but rather the WIND! There were gusts that nearly blew us off the wagon where we were elevated for the cars to see us as we sought to preach, lead worship, and participate in the service of installation!
Another word for a very strong wind is a “gale.” “Gale” happens to be my mother’s first name. And the spelling is of note. When my mom was born my grandpa was charged with working on the paperwork related to her birth certificate. While my grandparents had agreed upon my mother’s name, my grandfather, likely in the overwhelming joy of a first-born child, spelled my mom’s name G-A-L-E, which is traditionally the male spelling of the name. Once it was done, there was no correcting it, and my mother would have some humorous stories from her life of mistaken identity. For example, she was assigned housing in her college years in a male dorm because her name made the administration assume she was a male student. Also, later in life she was given the nickname “Windy” by some college friends because she was a “gale.”
Standing in the force of the gale that blew across Bethel’s parking lot on a November Sunday morning, I was mindful of the “gales” of life right now. As I write this, the Coronavirus pandemic has a staggering death toll, hospitals are reaching capacity, and there is unrest in communities throughout the state related to new measures that once again hope to “flatten the curve.” Matters around racial justice continue to be of deep concern and a peaceful transition of power is still being awaited after a Presidential election. There are members of Bethel who are navigating challenges to their health and grieving loved ones in a time when we cannot gather together in ways that provide a comforting hug or support. In addition, many are suffering job losses and threats to the stability of their income. We are anticipating a Christmas that will be void of many of the social gatherings and festivities we enjoy.
As these and many other “gales” swirl about, I am mindful of my mother, Gale. Gale Buhr is a woman of faith, deep compassion, good humor, thoughtful reflection, encouragement, kindness, and multiple talents—from her skills as a crafter of beautiful hardanger (Norwegian needlework) to the preparer of some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in my lifetime. She is and always has been a steady rock of grace for me—someone whose loving embrace, uplifting words, wise counsel, and listening ear have been a great gift. No matter the gales that swirl about I have always been able to trust in her support. She is the best mother I could have ever hoped to have in this life.
The preaching text on my day of ordination was from Hosea and included vivid images of God as a loving parent. Specifically there were qualities assigned to God that often are assigned to a mother’s love, “I led them with cords of human kindness with bands of love. I was to them like they who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” (Hosea 11:4) How easily I can hear these descriptive words about God and visualize my own mother and her “bands of love” that will always have hold of my heart.
As I step into a new position at Bethel, I suspect that there will be times ahead in ministry that will be peaceful and times that will be challenging. Yet, I will trust in the gale of the Holy Spirit that was blowing VERY STRONGLY on the day of my installation to be that which centers, guides, and keeps me on the firm foundation of the promise given in Christ. Bethel has its firm foundation in the grace given in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This promise is yours each day and will never fail you. We need not fear the gales of life but continue to place our greatest hope and trust in God’s gale of a gift of ruah, pnuema . . . the Holy Spirit.