Sailing and the Spirit (Scholar’s Compass)

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, 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


I’ve been learning to sail this summer. I’ve also been wondering if Jesus was thinking about all the fishermen He knew when He said the words above. Starting to sail made me pay attention to the wind, and as I’ve done that I’ve found myself understanding these words about the Spirit in a new way.

The wind is whimsical. It blows you along in one direction and then shifts, or bears you swiftly and then calms suddenly and slows you down. Perhaps more experienced sailors can predict more than I can, but the wind is always surprising me, always doing something I didn’t expect. And when it does, I need to attend to it, to change what I’m doing so that it still works in relationship to the wind. When I adjust the sail or guide the rudder, I am in no way controlling the wind. I am aligning with it and accepting its gift of movement, actively working to stay in relationship to it and at the same time recognizing that it is the source of the boat’s energy and I am not. And when it takes off and carries my craft with it, joy fills me the same way the wind fills the sail. The wind blows where it wishes.

The Spirit surprises me, too. When I have figured out everything I need to do for the day and made a neat list, He rushes into my heart with a gust of joy that takes me far in a different direction. When I think I know the most important thing in the week, He pushes someone into my path who asks or offers a different kind of attention. When I think I have the course of my whole life fixed in a direction, He comes from somewhere else and I have to choose a different tack.

As we look towards the start of the semester, planning and organization are important tasks, ones God has called many of to pursue with diligence and faithfulness. For many of us, the coming months are a time to seek steady progress along a well-plotted course. I pray for the steady faithfulness to journey in the direction God has called me to. Yet I also pray to attend to the Spirit when He surprises me, whether He comes as the breeze that playfully redirects me in the slightest way or the gust of wind that turns me around completely. Whatever I do, I want it to be the Spirit who fills the sails and sweeps me along.


Where is the wind of the Spirit blowing in your life? Is He guiding you along the same course, or surprising you? Or both?


Oh Holy Spirit, Let us be attentive to You this year and always. As the wind blows where it wishes, we know You are mysterious. We do not always know why You nudge us in one direction or blow us off our usual course. Whether You are sending us strongly along our plotted course or guiding us somewhere else, be the wind that gives us motion. Thank You, oh breath of life. In Christ’s Name, amen.

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Hannah Eagleson

Hannah Eagleson is Interim Associate Director of InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). She launched and still edits ESN's collaboratively written devotional for academics, Scholar's Compass. Hannah also crafts other community-building events and materials for ESN. She holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Delaware, and an MA from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. she’s working on a novel about a dragon who gave up fending off knights to become a tea importer in eighteenth-century England.

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  • David Parry commented on August 24, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for this, Hannah. It proved to be apt as I read it while waiting to meet a friend in the library tea room, but then had a message to say that he was delayed by the rain, and was unexpectedly joined for lunch instead by an overseas friend visiting Cambridge for research whom I wasn’t expecting to see and who seemed to find my advice helpful. I managed to have conversations in the tea room with four people I knew but hadn’t planned to meet before my original friend eventually arrived, which saved me sending a couple of emails I would have needed to send otherwise. I often struggle with efficiency and managing my work schedule, but then seem to have lots of these unexpected contacts with people which bless them and me in various ways.

    (I get a bit confused sometimes by this – if I’m running late and consequently bump into someone I haven’t seen for ages and have a fruitful conversation with them, does that mean that God wanted me to be running late? Answers on a postcard…)

    Mary Trescolada commented on August 24, 2015 Reply

    Fellow sailor here, really enjoyed your post. I think sailing represents an act of faith since you can’t see the wind but rely on it to get where you’re going and you can always feel its presence even if it never makes itself explicitly known. Looking back this helped me understand my relationship with God and that Christian community living is just people taking a leap of faith together. Thanks for the post!

    Hannah Eagleson commented on August 28, 2015 Reply

    Hi David and Mary, Thanks for your kind comments! David, I struggle with figuring those balances between efficiency and spontaneity too – both things seem like goods, but knowing which one to pursue when can be pretty tricky.

    I think paying attention to the Spirit is definitely one of the most important ways to know which of these to pursue, but what that means in any given case is probably a book in itself . . . I do take heart from another sailing example, though. The more you sail, the better you get at paying attention to the wind and finding a way to work with it, even when it surprises you. I hope and believe that paying attention to the Spirit is like that, too. That’s a very partial answer, but it gives me hope.

    Hannah Eagleson commented on August 29, 2015 Reply

    Mary, Glad to hear that you also enjoy sailing. You’re probably more expert than I am. 🙂 Glad that thinking about sailing in this context made sense of something in your life as well.

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