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. —From the Christian scriptures, John 3:8
Last year, with no warning, my writing changed.
For the previous decade it had looked like this post: straightforward, accessible prose that explored insights in contemplative spirituality. I wrote about dialogue, Donald Trump, the frenzied pace of American life, you name it, all through a spiritual lens. Each title described what was in the article (good strategy for search engines). People could read the content and glean something from it in 10 minutes.
Then last January, for no apparent reason, I started writing what’s called “creative nonfiction”—intense personal essays with titles like “Nudge” and “Outside/Inside” and “What My Hair Keeps Trying to Tell Me.” Here’s one example, and here’s another.
Even weirder, these essays are all I write nowadays, and I can’t stop writing them. Halfway through one essay I’m struck with a brainstorm for another. The words come from a deeper place in my heart than ever before. The writing is bliss. The articles I used to write, the process for writing them, now feel dry as dust.
I can’t even imagine why this is happening. If there’s a grand divine purpose at work, it’s hopelessly obscure, even more so than usual. What the hell is going on?
Maybe the answer—or as close as I’ll get to an answer—lies in Jesus’ cryptic saying about the wind. It tells me that if I keep my heart open to hearing and following God’s gentle nudge, I will have no clue where it’ll land me next. Moreover, wherever I do land, it probably won’t look like contemporary images of success, influence, or power. It may not even look sane.
Fortunately, I’m not the only one on this path, not even close. M. Scott Peck, the spiritual author and psychiatrist, once said that “the voice of the Holy Spirit is always crazy.” In one of his best-loved prayers, Thomas Merton wrote, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.” History is full of eccentrics like Charles de Foucauld, who felt called to the remotest corner of the Algerian desert so he could introduce locals to Christ. In 20 years he did not convert a single soul.
So why follow such strange callings?
I think it’s because of another voice from the Christian scriptures: that attributed to St. Peter. After a particularly hard teaching, says the Gospel of John, many disciples abandoned Jesus. In a poignant moment he asked the few who remained, “Do you also want to go away?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Eternal life. Maybe that means living forever, but I think it also refers to life boundless, overflowing, compassionate, levitating us to live as we were created to live, drawing us ever closer to the Source of all things. That is joy, that is ecstasy, beside which the world’s traditional paths and goals are a pale imitation. That’s why I keep treading this weird, weird path.