Blowing in the gentle breeze

It was a beautiful afternoon early in the summer. My friend Sister Claire and I were sitting on the porch at the nursing home. Sister Claire said, “Hold my hand.” When I did, she then said, “Now, you can’t run away and do the next thing on your list. Just sit for a few minutes.” I was tempted to silently prioritize projects for the remainder of that afternoon. Suddenly, there was this gentle breeze which drew my attention to one tree across the parking lot. As the breeze stirred the leaves, some leaves turned over revealing a silvery bottom. I pointed out the tree to my friend. She released my hand and replied, “Good! You understand. Isn’t this peaceful?” Sister Claire was correct in her analysis. That afternoon I had to turn down “doing” and turn up “being.” A better balance had to be restored between the two. 

A good example illustrating the importance of balance between doing and being is the New Testament sisters Martha and Mary. Martha is doing everything while Mary sits with the Lord. Jesus’ response to Martha’s request that Mary be reminded of her hospitality duties is clearly a call to recognize the importance of being in the presence of the Lord. Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part of it and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:42). Why does this end with a call to being? I believe Jesus recognized that when we humans need to reset our balance point, we would more likely need the call back to being. Martha also illustrates how easy it is for us to transition to being. After Lazarus’ death, Martha goes out to meet Jesus and says, “I believe that You are the Son of God” (Jn 11:27). 

That afternoon, as the breeze produced that silvery to green transition and ruffled the tallest blades of grass, I was reminded of Elijah at Horeb (mountain of God). Elijah hid at the mouth of a cave awaiting God. “A strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” In that quiet whisper, that gentle breeze, Elijah recognized the voice (presence) of God (1Kgs 19:12-16).

Elijah had fervently prayed along the way. He did not understand his world. He had done what God asked of him. Instead of thanks, he received death threats! On Mount Horeb, in that gentle whisper of a breeze was God’s answer to Elijah. God answered Elijah’s prayer; not in hiding Elijah from conflict or struggle, but in strengthening him for the work Elijah was to do for God in this world. God sent Elijah forth once more to the Israelites.

What do Elijah and the singers Peter, Paul and Mary have to say about the balance between doing and being in our walk with Jesus? Have you ever listened to the words of the song, “Blowin’ in the Wind” (lyrics at  The poignant verse, “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind,” vividly reminds us of the grave injustices and human indifference present in our world. This is an individual and collective call to work for social justice issues. However, each of us must decide for ourselves what call we hear and what the refrain “the answer is blowing in the wind” mean. 

To me, the phrase blowing in the wind has two levels. Gusts serve to stir up or reveal a crisis where we suddenly perceive an injustice and a way we can possibly work to alleviate it.  In essence, we understand we received a personal call to make a difference. Next, we must wait for the gusts to blow by, just as Elijah did at that cave. This is because the gentle breeze that follows carries directly to our heart the voice of God. We understand our personal call to action only after sincere prayer and preparation (being in God’s presence). It is only with the wisdom of understanding that we can move to effectively doing or accomplishing something as part of God’s plan for change. Elijah serves as an example for us in the balance of being and doing, but also in the fact that throughout our lifetime we will each receive multiple calls. Elijah possibly expected a great retirement, but instead was strengthened for the next round of God’s work. We too must be patient and vigilant to hear all of God’s whisper because this is the only way we will be sure with what we choose to do, we are following what God requests of us. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the gentle breeze, can you hear it? What call do you hear? How will you respond? 

Editor’s note: “Blowin’ in the Wind,” was written by Bob Dylan.

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer born and raised in Fall River. She is a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish and received her Ph.D. in neurochemistry from Boston College and teaches in the Chemistry Department at Rhode Island College. She can be reached at

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