There is a kind of knowledge and wisdom that comes to us through means other than formal education. It can be shared similar to faith, but its essence and expression are unique in application. It is a state of being, yet one that brings about a oneness in meaning and purpose. Some might say an acting out of instinct, insight, or intuition, but it is more.
In “A Tale of Boxes,” Robert T. Latham tells a story. It seems that in New Bedford, Mass., no sea captain was held in higher regard than Eleazer Hull. He went out farther, stayed longer, brought back more whale oil, and lost fewer men than any other captain. He had an uncanny gift of navigation, though not formally trained. When asked to explain this gift he would say, “Oh, I just go up on the deck, listen to the wind in the rigging, get the drift of the sea, take a long look at the stars, and then set my course.”
Times changed. The owners of Captain Hull’s vessel were told by their insurance underwriter they would no longer cover a vessel which did not have a formally trained and certified navigator. Captain Hull must either hire someone, or go to navigation school himself. The old captain said he had become curious about this new scientific navigation, and would be glad to have a chance to study it. He went to the school at the expense of the company and graduated near the top of his class.
Following school Captain Hull shipped out for two years. When he returned to home port it seemed half the population of New Bedford was on the docks to greet him. The first question asked of him was how he liked the experience of navigating by scientific means. He said: “It was wonderful. I don’t know how I have gotten on without it all these years. Now when I want to know my location and how to get to where I want to go, I go into my cabin, get out my charts and tables, work the proper equations, and after about an hour I set my course with scientific precision. Then I go up on the deck and listen to the wind in the rigging, get the drift of the sea, take a long look at the stars and go back and correct my course for errors in computation.”
If you do not know about the wind in the rigging, the drift of the sea, and the long look at the stars, you suffer a depth of ignorance that no amount of education can cure.
The Bible sometimes uses the word “wind” as a code word for “spirit.” One example, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes, so it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.” (John 3:8)
Instead of chasing after the wind, listen for the wind, the wind of the Holy Spirit — become one with the Spirit. In this perplexing world where so much of life is a puzzle, and many voices clamor for your attention, listen for the wind, becoming one with God and creation.
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The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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