Nicodemus, Spirit, and surprise


“The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
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)

In today’s reading at Mass, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being “reborn.” He then concludes his comments to Nicodemus with a short reflection on the Spirit being akin to the wind. Just as we can see the effects of the wind but lack an immediate knowledge of its origin or its end, God’s action is visible indirectly.

Ignatius names consolation (feelings of peace, joy, being outward oriented, grateful, and feeling connected to others) as a sign of God’s active presence. Within each of us, a sign of God’s activity is consolation, where consolation is akin to the waving and swaying of the tree branches in the wind. We don’t see God directly, but rather indirectly, in consolation. We also don’t always know what the future will hold with God’s action. For example, consider a college student who knows that she or he is inspired to do more to work for social justice causes and feels a ‘turn’ toward a different kind of life than he or she had previously planned as a result of service work. The student may know something important has happened internally, but as of yet have no idea what exact kind of work or vocation the future holds. (And then my job as a faculty advisor is to assure her that this not-yet-knowing is perfectly okay!)

Pope Francis, true to his Jesuit formation, loves to talk about God as a God of surprises. This passage on Nicodemus reminds us to be attentive to those places where God is providing consolation, and open to a God who desires to surprise us, both today and with the longer road of our own futures.