I was fortunate enough to work for 11 years in the Diocese of St John's-Basseterre in the West Indies. The majority of my time was spent with the people of the British Virgin Islands (BVI). There are 50 islands that make up the BVI, but the population of 22,000 lives on the four larger islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. The pristine waters of the Caribbean Sea, and the fact that each of these islands was just a day’s sail away, made the BVI a popular place for American and European tourists to vacation, sailing from one island to the next on chartered sailing boats.
In sailing, the best condition is to have the wind at your back; the worst is to have no wind at all. But the most common situation is a headwind coming at your boat from varying angles. In this situation, skilled sailors would reach their destination in a headwind by “tacking” into the wind; setting their sails so that they could move forward, indirectly, towards their destination in a zigzag fashion.
Progress was often slow, but it was steady, and the best sailors were those who had learnt to “read” the wind. A good sailor was one who knew when to “come about” and make a turn and then reset their sails. I would often look out over the Sir Francis Drake Channel and see the majestic sight of fifty or sixty sailing boats, in full sail, tacking into the wind, struggling to reach their destination.
In the same way the early Christian community experienced God’s spirit as a “wind” propelling the “craft” of the Church. Indeed, those early Christians perceived the spirit in their midst as the very breath of God filling their community with his life and love and animating them to do the work of the Gospel that Jesus had called them to do.
Just like sailing, the challenge of Pentecost for our Parish Family is to sense God’s Spirit in our midst. Sometimes God’s Spirit requires us to “come about” and move more slowly, more intentionally, than we’d like to. More often than not, the Spirit of God forces us to “tack” in directions that cause us to pause and reconsider our decisions. Other times the Spirit of God is like having a breeze at our back, propelling us forward, with courage and determination into uncharted waters.
A good sailor can “read” the wind. Likewise, a good Christian can sense the Spirit of God in their midst and is attuned to the direction in which the Spirit is leading them. We might have to “change tack” and, just when we feel comfortable, we discover that we have to ‘come about”. But Pentecost guarantees each member of our Parish Family that we will never be “becalmed” because God’s Spirit is always leading us in new directions of compassion, community and justice.
May the Spirit be at your back this week.
Fr Peter Brannelly